The purpose of a bail in Florida criminal proceedings is to ensure the appearance of the criminal defendant at subsequent proceedings and to protect the community against unreasonable danger from the criminal defendant. Under Florida law, when determining whether to release the defendant on bail or other conditions and what the amount of bail should be, the court must consider numerous statutorily delineated criteria. They are: (1) the type of offense charged; (2) the extent of evidence of guilt; (3) the defendant’s ties to the community; (4) the defendant’s criminal history, if any, and any previous incidents of flight or failure to appear; (5) any danger to the community posed by defendant’s release; (6) whether defendant’s offered bond funds are derived from unlawful activities; (7) whether defendant is already on release pending resolution of another criminal proceeding or completion of a sentence; (8) the street value of any drug or controlled substance related to the criminal charge; (9) the nature and probability of intimidation and danger to victims; (10) whether there is probable cause to believe the defendant committed a new crime while on pretrial release; (11) whether the crime charged is for a gang-related offense or one for which defendant would have to register as a sexual offender or predator; and (12) any other factors the court considers relevant.
The practice of requiring money bail for pretrial release is common in the majority of jurisdictions in the United States. But, a series of recent lawsuits and an increasing body of research has raised concerns about its effectiveness and potential to discriminate based on race and income.
On April 29, 2017 a federal judge in Houston ordered Harris County to stop the pretrial detention of people arrested on misdemeanor charges because they cannot afford bail. The ruling occurred in a case where a woman arrested for driving without a license spent more than two days in jail because she could not make her $2,500 bail. In a 193 page order, Judge Lee H. Rosenthal wrote “Harris County’s policy is to detain indigent misdemeanor defendants before trial, violating equal protection rights against wealth-based discrimination and violating due process protections against pretrial detention.” The judge pointed to statistics indicating 40 percent of those arrested for misdemeanors in the county had been detained until their cases were resolved.
As predicted by legal scholars, Judge Rosenthal’s denunciation of the existing money bail system has reverberated beyond Texas. In fact, the shock waves of this landmark ruling have recently arrived right here in Jacksonville. The Florida Times-Union just reported on a lawsuit filed August 31, 2017 in federal district court claiming Jacksonville’s misdemeanor bail procedures which require payment for pretrial release, irrespective of one’s ability to pay, violates poor defendants’ rights to equal protection. According to the article, a January report from the Florida Department of Corrections revealed Duval County has more misdemeanor defendants in jail on average than any other county in the state. Of the county’s daily average of 3,029 inmates, 444 are there on misdemeanor charges, representing 15 percent of the total population.
The Harris County case and the recently filed Jacksonville federal case both reflect a growing national sentiment for bail reform to prevent those who haven’t been convicted of a crime from being held in jail. Not only does the current bail system appear to discriminate against the poor and minorities, but it often leads to improper convictions. During the initial appearance when bail is typically determined, prosecutors sometimes make offers to resolve cases right there with no additional jail time in exchange for guilty pleas. In the fast paced environment of the initial appearance many defendants who can’t afford bail accept those offers because they can’t or otherwise don’t want to stay in jail for several more weeks or months while they fight their charges. The resultant criminal conviction on their record can then adversely affect their ability to get a job, stay in their apartment and to receive government assistance.
If your loved one has been arrested for a misdemeanor in Duval, Nassau, Clay or St. John’s Counties, you should consider retaining a Jacksonville criminal attorney versed in the recent developments concerning the proper amount of bail to set in their case. Doing so can give them the best chance of avoiding an improperly high bond, save them substantial un-refundable bail money and/or prevent them improperly from picking up a misdemeanor conviction just to get out of jail.