Lots of inmates are looking for a bond reduction. For reasons unbeknownst to me, some judges just hand out ridiculously high bonds. So, bond reductions are a popular, and necessary. Also, bond amounts are not the only crazy aspect of bail, I've seen drug cases that require a defendant to be drug tested three (3!!) times a week. Yikes. But bond "conditions" are a topic for another day. Today, we're going to take a look at how a defendant's current financial situation plays into the bond setting decision. When an attorney knows that an inmate cannot afford the current bond, a Motion to Reduce Bond is filed in the hopes that the court will reduce the bond to something more affordable. So, let's examine how one particular judge's bond reduction was found to be improper because a defendant's finances were not factored into the equation.
Today's case is Sylvester v. State, 39 Fla. L. Weekly D 1194 (Fla. 5th DCA 2014). Sylvester was arrested for first degree grand theft, scheming to defraud, and exploiting a disabled adult (it takes a theft of over $100,000 to transform grand theft into a first degree felony, fyi). Lots of fraud here, allegedly, and that translates into a high bond. Sylvester's bond was $250,000 per count, for a total of $750,000. Sylvester's Motion to Reduce bond was granted, but the judge only reduced the bond to $200,000 per count, for a grand total of $600,000. Sylvester wanted his bond reduced even further, so his defense attorney appealed the bond decision to a higher court (technically called a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus).
I'm going to spoil the ending here--the appeals court granted Sylvester's request, and ordered the judge to reconsider his bond reduction. To understand why, let's review the guidelines for bail, found in Florida Statute Section 903.046. The actual dollar amount of bond is not the only consideration, other conditions may be imposed, and all of this depends upon (1) the type of offense, (2) the strength of the evidence against the inmate, (3) the defendant's family ties to the community, (4) how long he's lived in the community, (5) work history, (6) personal finances, and (7) prior criminal history. Even more factors are listed in the statute, but we've got enough to work with here. In Sylvester's case, the court actually considered the basics, like the type of the offense, the evidence against Sylvester, his family ties, length of stay, work, and priors. However, the court did not consider Sylvester's financial situation.