When Dani Asmaro was arrested with a gun last month, he was charged with a misdemeanor, posted $150 for bail and was a free man.
Weeks later, he was back in court after the police said they saw him toss another handgun under a car in Rogers Park.
This time, he was charged with a felony, and his bail was steeper —but his cousin posted the $4,000, and he was back on the street.
The 23-year-old from Skokie is one of 12 people, including seven juveniles, who have been charged twice with gun possession so far this year in Chicago.
That’s an alarming statistic in a city where the police seize more guns than in Los Angeles and New York, police Supt. Garry McCarthy says.
“What is the system doing about it?” McCarthy said, noting that nearly 700 people were arrested for gun possession in the first three months of 2015 and about 75 percent were back on the street by June.
Besides McCarthy continuing to call for tougher gun laws, the superintendent also wants judges to set higher bails to keep people behind bars on gun charges as they await trial.
“There is discretion judges can exercise,” said his spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi.
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez agrees.
“We are in favor of significant bonds that serve as a deterrent, and we strongly believe we need to strengthen our gun laws,” said Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for Alvarez.
In St. Louis, Judge Jack Garvey, handling the felony court responsible for setting bail, launched an experiment in 2011 in which he routinely set bail for illegal gun possession at $30,000 or higher. Gun violence dropped sharply.
Defense attorneys and civil rights activists opposed the St. Louis experiment, saying setting bails punitively high goes against the presumption of innocence.
In 2012, Garvey rotated out of the bail court. Judges in St. Louis no longer set uniformly high bail in gun cases.
In Chicago, Asmaro’s bail was set at just $1,500 after his first gun arrest on June 4 in the 6300 block of North Richmond. Officers reported Asmaro was standing with other men and someone said something about a “gun in the car.”
When the officers approached, they said Asmaro and two other men ran. The police stopped Asmaro, who said a gun in the car was his and that he had a state firearm owner’s identification card, according to a police report. The officers took a 9mm handgun from a console in the car.
Prosecutors declined to charge Asmaro with a felony. Instead, he was charged with misdemeanors: illegal gun possession and failure to have a state concealed carry permit. Because of that, the Chicago Police Department, and not a judge, set Asmaro’s bail. He posted 10 percent of his $1,500 bail and was released.
Asmaro was arrested again on June 21 in the 2300 block of West Arthur. Officers responding to a call about a man with a gun said they saw Asmaro throw an object under a parked car and found a loaded .45-caliber Colt handgun.
Prosecutors filed felony charges of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, and Judge Marvin Luckman set Asmaro’s bail at $40,000. A cousin put up the required 10 percent of that as a bond for his release, records show.
In the first case, Asmaro’s attorney, Todd Pugh, said he plans to show his client was waiting to have his concealed-carry permit processed when arrested.
Pugh said in the second case officers arrested Asmaro “because he was out on bond on a gun case. It was absolutely not his weapon.”
Pugh has another client, Kevin Martinez, also charged twice this year with illegal gun possession. Martinez, 20, of Cicero, was arrested Jan. 15 for aggravated gun possession, a felony, and released after posting the required 10 percent of a $100,000 bail.
On April 23, Martinez and a co-defendant were arrested on the Northwest Side and charged with attempted murder and illegal gun possession. Martinez was a passenger in an SUV from which shots were allegedly fired at an off-duty cop. A responding on-duty cop said he saw Martinez throw a gun from the passenger seat. Denied bail in that case, Martinez is being held in the Cook County Jail awaiting trial.
Pugh said a high-bail policy wouldn’t have had much effect on Asmaro or Martinez, noting steep bails were set in two of their gun cases, and no bond was offered in one of them.
“What is Mr. McCarthy saying? Should they be held in jail indefinitely? Should everybody caught with a gun go to jail for the rest of his life?” Pugh said. “The problem is bigger than the firearm laws.”