A blog by Miami Criminal Defense Lawyer Brian Tannebaum. Commenting on criminal law issues of local and national interest.

Monday, February 01, 2010

The Slippery Slope Of Bond

A couple weeks ago there was a tragic accident. A bicycle rider was killed. The suspect, left the scene, and was later arrested. The allegations, not formally filed yet, include driving on a suspended license and DUI.

Miami has a big bicyclist community, and they are vocal. This accident was more than a story of car v. biker, it became bikers v. government, bikers v. not enough safe places to ride, and now, bikers v. criminal justice system.

The suspect appeared before a judge, and was released on bond.

In the local paper appeared this letter in response to an editorial on the issue of bicyclist safety:

The writer should focus some of his outrage on the system and the judge who allowed the perpetrator to bail out of jail. The man who allegedly hit the biker and left the scene was driving while under the influence. He had an invalid license and resisted arrest.

He obviously had no respect for the law. Where is the outrage?

The outrage is there, but letters to the editor aren't as sexy as commenting on the internet where anonymity allows people to say things they would never say, to anyone. A letter to the editor requires a name. Who wants to put their name to something when they can leave it out and write things that incite hate?

The sentiment is typical - how can someone who did this, be given bond after arrest and be allowed to walk out of jail? Why is a conviction required for a defendant to be kept in jail?

Well, it's not. Bond has become more the exception. Legislators have been adding offenses to the "no bond" schedule throughout the country. Few an accused murderer is released on bail, add to that armed robbery, burglary with an assault, a few other violent crimes, and don't forget the judge's discretion to set a high, unaffordable bond when the defendant is a flight risk, and/or has little ties to the community.

People like me talk about the "slippery slope." Bond has slid down this slope at a fast clip.

The top of the slope is here, the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution (don't laugh, it really exists):

"Excessive bail shall not be required."

Then there is Florida Law: Article I, section 14 of the Florida Constitution reads:

Unless charged with a capital offense or an offense punishable by life imprisonment and the proof of guilt is evident or the presumption is great, every person charged with a crime or violation of municipal or county ordinance shall be entitled to pretrial release on reasonable conditions.

This is a hard pill to swallow for many - the fact that the public thinks "he did it" and that "he's guilty" and the fact that a judge must follow the law and grant bail, is outrageous to some. I understand.

But this is where public sentiment and law and order diverge.

If we left all aspects of our system up to people emotionally affected by crime, or accusations of crime, there would be a jail on every corner.

I understand the sentiments of the author of this letter, and I hope he understands that while the judge many not have made the ruling he, and other bikers like, he did follow the law, as slippery as it has become.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. To learn more about Brian and his firm, Tannebaum Weiss, please visit www.tannebaumweiss.com


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  1. Good point about public sentiment and the law not being exactly parallel.

    In my opinion, when some nasty crime is committed, people feel much better if at the end of the story it reads "police have a suspect in custody."

    For most folks, the inquiry stops right there. Guilt or innocence isn't considered.

  2. Anonymous1:42 AM

    I have charged any number of people with crimes over the years. This includes either taking them to jail or releasing on summons after arrest with a court date. I would say that about half of all my cases have turned into warrants (i.e. the only way to get the guy to show up for court is actually arrest him and have the jail deputies physically take him to the courtroom). Even if he bonds out of jail, he still vanishes until he gets picked up on the FTA warrant. On the other hand, some people are perfectly reliable and make all their court appearances, even with a summons and no jail or bond. It varies from case to case.