WHAT HAPPENS AT A BOND HEARING?
A bond hearing is a chance to get out of jail. In Georgia, if you are arrested and charged with a crime, you may be taken to jail. If you are taken to jail, in most cases, the jail will already have a schedule of bonds so that, once you pay a certain amount of money, or you have a bonding company do it for you, or you have friends or family either pay money or put up real property as collateral, you can be released from jail pending trial.
Now, some cases are more serious than other cases. For the more serious cases, the jail does not have a set bond schedule for that crime. In that situation, the person has to go before a judge and ask to be released. They have to ask that judge to set a bond amount. Once the judge sets the bond, the client can then post the bond amount and be released from custody pending trial.
Most of the time, the bond hearing is going to happen before a magistrate judge. The magistrate judge will see the person who has been charged usually within 24 to 48 hours after being arrested. The judge will tell the person what they are charged with. The judge will also make sure the person knows they have a right to a lawyer. If they cannot afford a lawyer, the magistrate will explain how to apply for a court-appointed lawyer and then the magistrate will set a bond amount. It can either be a cash bond or a property bond or a surety bond where you hire a bonding company to post the bond for you.
There are a few crimes in Georgia where the magistrate does not have the authority to set a bond. Those are the more serious crimes like murder, kidnapping, rape, drug trafficking, aggravated child molestation, etc. For crimes like that, even if the magistrate judge wants the person to get out of jail, the magistrate does not have the authority to set the bond amount. In a serious case like that, the person who is being charged has to ask for a bond hearing in front of a superior court judge, a higher level judge, the judge who will ultimately be responsible for the case if it is a felony.
Once the motion is filed in the Superior Court, the bond hearing usually takes place within about 10 days. At that hearing, the defendant will appear with his or her lawyer. The prosecution will be there and they will usually bring the arresting officer, the law enforcement officer who has been involved in the case, and the judge will hear evidence from both sides.
Under Georgia law, the judge is considering four things. Number one, will this person show back up to court if I let him or her go? Is the person a risk of flight? If so, how serious is that risk. Number two, is this person a danger to community? If I let them out of jail are they going to hurt somebody? Number three, is this person a risk of committing additional felonies if I let them out of jail? Do they have a long track record of prior crimes or convictions that suggest that, if I let them out this time, they are going to commit an additional crime? Finally, is this person a serious risk of intimidating witnesses who may be needed to testify at trial?
Initially the person being charged has to put up some evidence that they have ties to the community. Maybe they have an employment history they want to put before the court. The point is they need to show that they have a place to stay, they have got a place to work, and they have people in town or in the area who will support them. That is important because it shows the judge that they have a connection to the community and are more likely to show up in court as the case proceeds.
Once the person puts up some evidence of those ties to the community, then it is the prosecution’s obligation to show the judge by preponderance of the evidence that the client still should not be let go, either they are serious risk of committing more crimes, they have reached out to potential witnesses and tried to threaten them or intimidate them, or they have substantial assets that will allow them to flee the jurisdiction. Maybe they do not have sufficient ties to the area where they are now. At the end of the day, the judge has to decide whether there is enough evidence, whether the state has met its burden of producing enough evidence to keep the person in jail.
If the judge decides to let the person out of jail, then that bond is going to depend on all of those factors. It can be very high or it can be a simple signature bond where the person is released without posting any money at all.
Now, the amount of bond is going to depend on the seriousness of the case, the person’s prior criminal history, and all of those other factors, and it somewhat depends on the judge as ell. Some judges tend to have lower bonds set in their courts. Some tend to require higher bonds. A judge can also deny a bond and simply say, “there is no amount of money that I can require you or someone to pay on your behalf that will ensure me that you are going to come back to court or not be a danger to the community.”
If the bond is denied, you can go back to the judge again, requesting a new bond hearing, and, in some situations, you may be able to appeal that decision to the appeals court. If the person does get a bond and they are out on bond while the case is pending, they have to be very careful to follow any release conditions that the judge may have imposed. Usually they involve do not commit any new crimes. Maybe you need to stay away from certain potential witnesses. If the person does not follow those conditions, they can be arrested, brought back in front of the judge, and bond can be revoked, meaning they will be held in jail pending trial.