For the vast majority of our community, being arrested and placed in jail is the furthest thing from thought. However, many people have had loved ones, friends, or family placed in jail for an alleged crime.
How do we treat these folks who have been arrested, but not convicted of anything?
The issue of pre-trial release, or bond, is treated in a variety of different ways based on the accusation.
It is also almost always the very first problem to address for the families and friends of those who have been arrested.
Oftentimes, the accused will be given a pre-set bond after the arrest and booking procedures are complete. This typically happens in cases where the arrest is for a non-violent misdemeanor such as a DUI or other less serious offense.
If a pre-set bond is not available, the accused may also have a fairly quick opportunity to have a bond set at a first appearance hearing. This is a hearing conducted by a magistrate judge who will inform the accused of his rights in a criminal case. Additionally, the judge may consider setting a bond in some felony cases if the accused does not have any probation, parole, or other types of law enforcement holds.
If there is no pre-set bond and the magistrate judge does not set a bond, then the accused will sit in jail until the case comes up for trial or a bond hearing is set at a later date. The request to have bond set at a later date usually comes in the form of a motion for bond filed in the superior court.
This bond motion will set the stage for a bond hearing in front of a superior court judge. The district attorney represents the state of Georgia at these hearings. While procedures and local rules differ slightly from county to county, the superior court will be authorized to set bond if the judge determines that the accused:
(1) Poses no significant risk of fleeing from the jurisdiction of the court or failing to appear in court when required;
(2) Poses no significant threat or danger to any person, or to the community, or to any property in the community;
(3) Poses no significant risk of committing any felonies pending trial; and
(4) Poses no significant risk of intimidating witnesses or otherwise obstructing the administration of justice.
While these four determinations are used as the criteria for the judge in the bond hearing, the foremost consideration when setting a bond is the probability that the accused, if freed, will appear for trial.
Alleged victims in Georgia have the right to be present and speak at bond hearings in Georgia.
Sometimes the judge will refuse to set a bond in the case. This can happen for a number of reasons, but is very common in cases where the accused has been arrested for serious violent felonies such as murder or child molestation. It can also happen when the accused has a significant criminal history.
From a practical standpoint, the family should be heavily involved in preparing for the bond hearing with the attorney before the court date. Witness testimony and other evidence can assist in establishing that the accused has ties to the community, will show back up for court, and otherwise meets the criteria for setting bond.
Disorganized and unprepared bond hearings are almost always a disaster for the accused.
If possible, the family should offer respected members of the community for the judge to hear from. They also need to be dressed appropriately for court, know the accused person well, and live in or as close to the county where the case is being prosecuted.
Win or lose, the pre-trial release of a loved one is just the first step in what can be a lengthy and arduous ordeal for the accused, the family, friends, etc.
But, it may be one of the most important steps along the way.
Sometimes, the denial of bond is a very appropriate ruling by a judge. However, in general, people should not be punished until they have been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.