When most people think about criminal court proceedings, they think about a trial. That makes sense: in our TV shows, movies, and books, dramatic and sensational events always take place in a packed courtroom in front of a jury.

In reality, though, the trial is the last or nearly the last in a long series of proceedings that take place during any criminal prosecution. This month, we will take a look at the first visit many criminal defendants make to a courtroom following their arrest and answer the question, “What happens at a bond hearing?”

What Is a Bond Hearing?

Put simply, a bond hearing is a proceeding during which a judge determines whether a particular defendant should be granted a bond, allowing them to be released from detention until their trial. The judge will consider several factors in deciding whether or not to grant a bond:

  • Is the defendant a flight risk?
  • Is the defendant a risk to the safety of others?
  • Is the defendant likely to intimidate or otherwise influence witnesses or jurors?
  • Is the defendant likely to commit another offense if they’re released?

After considering all of these factors, the judge will determine whether a bond may be granted in the case and what the amount of the bond will be.

Not All Defendants Have a Bond Hearing

For many of the most common offenses, the court system has an established bail schedule: a list of offenses and the amount of bail that should be set for each one. When someone is arrested on one of these charges, the bail is set automatically according to the bail schedule, and no bond hearing will be held.

Bond hearings are typically reserved for more serious, less common offenses or for repeat offenders who may have been denied scheduled bail because of their criminal record. Additionally, any defendant can request a bond hearing and argue in favor of a lower bond amount or more lenient bond conditions.

Bond Hearings Take Place in Magistrate or Superior Court

Most bond hearings take place in front of a magistrate. A bond hearing in magistrate court will usually take place within 24 to 48 hours after an arrest is made. The magistrate will inform the defendant of the charges they are facing, inform them of their right to legal counsel, and provide information on obtaining a public defender if the defendant requests it. The magistrate will then hear evidence from the defendant and – in some cases – from the prosecution and make a bond determination.

For more serious charges such as murder, rape, kidnapping, or child molestation, a magistrate is not authorized to approve a bond. In these cases, the bond hearing will be held in front of the superior court judge, usually the one who will eventually preside over the trial. The hearing will typically be held within about ten days of the arrest. At a superior court bond hearing, the prosecution will always be in attendance and will usually have witnesses such as the arresting officer or lead investigator on hand to provide evidence.

What Is Considered in a Bond Hearing?

As mentioned above, the court in a bond hearing is trying to determine the answers to four questions:

  • If a bond is granted, will the defendant return for the trial?
  • Is the defendant likely to hurt others or commit additional offenses?
  • Does the defendant pose a risk of witness or juror intimidation or coercion?
  • What amount of money/property will secure the defendant’s return?

In making these determinations, the court can consider multiple factors:

  • The defendant’s level of engagement in the community. A defendant who has family and friends nearby and a home and job in the community is considerably less likely to flee the jurisdiction.
  • The defendant’s financial standing. A defendant with considerable assets may be able to use those assets to escape justice more effectively and is less likely to be concerned about forfeiting the money spent on bail or a bond.
  • The defendant’s health. A defendant who suffers from chronic conditions requiring special treatment or medications is less likely to jump bail.
  • The defendant’s criminal record. If the defendant has a history of bail jumping, repeat offenses, or was arrested for a particularly violent or heinous offense, it will militate against their being granted bond.

Defendants Should Have an Attorney at Their Bond Hearing

As with any interaction with the court, defendants should have solid legal representation alongside them during a bond hearing. Even if the case is cut and dried and there is no real opposition to bail or a bond being granted, a skilled attorney can identify arguments that could conceivably convince the court to reduce the bail amount or even release the defendant on a recognizance or “signature” bond, requiring them to put up no money at all in order to secure a release from jail.

If the prosecution or the court is disinclined to allow bail, an aggressive defense attorney may be the defendant’s only chance at securing a pretrial release.

If You’ve Been Arrested and Are Facing a Bond Hearing, Call Bushway Law Firm: 478-621-4995.

Gregory Bushway is a former prosecutor who has successfully served as a criminal defense attorney in Macon, Georgia, since 2013. He knows the state and federal court systems and has secured bail or a bond for hundreds of defendants. Tell us about your case today: 478-621-4995

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