Well, the short answer is that he stays in jail.
Today, Chief Magistrate Judge Frank Cox in Cobb County, Georgia denied Justin Ross Harris’ request for bond. The judge also found sufficient probable cause to bind the case over to the grand jury on both the felony murder and second degree child cruelty charges.
I never had any doubt that the Court would find probable cause for these two charges, but I thought the issue of bond would be closer. Of course, like everyone else, I was surprised at the amount of evidence the State appears to have.
The evidence presented by the State was a lot more than they needed for probable cause. Discussing Harris’ sexting with an underage girl was clearly intended to influence the Court on the question of bond. Also, presenting evidence of Harris’ internet use suggested to the Court that the District Attorney may consider pursuing the death penalty. That would make anyone a flight risk.
So, what now? Under Georgia law, a defendant is entitled to bond as a matter of law if he is held in custody and not indicted within 90 days. That means that the Cobb County District Attorney has 90 days from the date Mr. Harris was arrested to present the case to a grand jury and obtain an indictment.
I first thought that the District Attorney’s office would agree to a bond for Mr. Harris so that they could avoid the 90 day deadline and also not avoid having to present all their evidence at the probable cause hearing. Instead, the District Attorney decided that keeping Mr. Harris in jail was more important than saving some of the State’s evidence for trial and getting the additional time to complete the investigation.
I was somewhat surprised at the lack of evidence presented by the defense on the question of bond. That is one area where the defense had a very strong argument. Mr. Harris appears to meet all the conditions required for a bond, even with a serious charge like murder. Mr. Harris has significant ties to his community, has no relevant criminal history, and there was no evidence that he would be a danger to the community or to intimidate witnesses.
I am surprised that the defense did not focus on those factors and call more witnesses to obtain a bond. I think the time spent on arguing probable cause was a waste given the facts of the case and what the defense lawyer must have known about the State’s evidence.
When will the case go to trial? Once the case is indicted, then Mr. Harris will be able to demand a speedy trial under Georgia law. Georgia law requires the State to bring a defendant to trial within two terms of court after such a demand is filed. If they do not bring him to court within that time, all charges are dismissed.
They won the hearing today, but now the clock is ticking for the District Attorney’s Office…