What happens at a bond hearing?

Attorney Page Pate explains what happens at a bond hearing and how someone can be released from jail pending trial in a serious criminal case.




What is a bond hearing? A bond hearing is a chance to get out of jail. In Georgia, if you’re arrested and charged with a crime, you may be taken to jail. If you’re 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 a property, 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 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. They can then be posted so they can be let go pending trial.

Most of the time, that bond hearing is going to happen before a magistrate judge. The magistrate judge will see the person who’s been charged usually within 24 to 48 hours after being arrested. They’ll tell the person what they’re charged with. They’ll make sure the person knows they have a right to a lawyer. If they can’t 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.

Now, 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. 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’s 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’s a felony.

Now, once that motion is filed, the bond hearing usually takes place within about 10 days. At that hearing, the person being charged, the defendant will show up with his or her lawyer. The prosecution will be there and they will usually bring the arresting officer the law enforcement officer who’s 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 the 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’re going to commit an additional crime? Finally, is this person a serious risk of intimidating witnesses who may be needed to testify a trial?

Now, 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’ve got a place to stay, they’ve got a place to work, and they have people in town or in the area who will support them. That’s 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’s the prosecution’s obligation to show the judge by preponderance of the evidence that you still shouldn’t let the person go, either they are a serious risk of committing more crimes, they’ve 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 don’t have sufficient ties to the area where they are now. At the end of the day, the judge has to decide whether there’s 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 well. 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’s no amount of money that I can require you or someone to pay on your behalf that will ensure me that you’re going to come back to court or not be a danger to the community.” A judge can also deny a bond.

If that 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’re out on bond while the case is pending, they have to be very careful to follow those conditions that the judge said. Usually they involve don’t commit any new crimes. Maybe you need to stay away from certain potential witnesses. If the person doesn’t follow those conditions, they can be arrested, brought back in front of the judge, and bond can be revoked, meaning they’ll be held in jail pending trial.