2nd FTA = No Bond Capias? Not So Fast…

doggy in jail.jpgEveryone has run late or missed an appointment at some point in their lives, right? Here in Orlando, some judges are quick to issue a capias on a failure to appear at pretrial or arraignment–and such warrants are often justified. But, why do a “no bond” warrant, isn’t a higher bond enough to get someone’s attention?. Here’s a real life example, enjoy:

Robert Williams failed to appear (FTA) at a calendar call on his pending felony theft charge (failure to redeliver a hired vehicle). Williams v. State, 59 So.3d 387 (Fla. 4th DCA 2011). But it gets worse: he failed to appear at arraignment as well, but that warrant was quashed because he and his bondsmen never received notice. So here comes the second failure to appear–this time for calendar call–and the judge issues a no bond warrant as his attorney is unaware of his whereabouts. Actually, this result is quite common in Orange, Seminole, or Osceola county on a felony FTA. If a judge sees a second failure to appear and the attorney doesn’t know where the defendant is located, good luck getting a bond.

The appeals court, though, held that Williams’ judge approached the situation all wrong and overturned the warrant because FTA situations requires a two step analysis (none of which was placed on the record in Williams‘ case). The first step requires a determination as to whether or not the defendant’s FTA was “willful”. No finding was made that his nonappearance was willful. As a matter of fact, it came out later that WIlliams is a member of a National Guard special forces unit, in which he was only given 24 hours notice to head to Africa for four months. His location did not allow for outgoing calls to his attorney. Oops! (after hearing this, you would think the judge would release him, right? Wrong)

The second prong of the analysis requires a court to consider what conditions are necessary to make sure a defendant appears (a no bond warrant should be a last resort). In other words, even if Williams admitted that he willfully blew off a court date because he was watching the latest episode of Jersey Shore–the judge cannot simply issue a no bond warrant. The judge must make a determination as to whether or not holding Williams in jail until trial is “necessary” to assure his appearance at trial. After all, there are other ways to ensure appearance at trial other than the extreme measure of sitting in jail waiting.

Warning: I’m about to get preachy….What’s wrong with a little forgiveness every now and then from these judges? Have we forgotten that we’ll only be forgiven to the extent we’ve forgiven others (which means, I’m in trouble…) Oh yea, there’s an old prayer some of us were taught in grade school–“and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us…”