Was $500,000 Bond For Stoneman Douglas Shooter’s Brother Justified?

INTRODUCTION
Based upon what happened in a bond hearing today in Broward criminal court, you would have thought that prosecutors uncovered evidence proving that Zachary Cruz, brother of Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooter Nikolas Cruz, actually conspired with, and assisted his brother carry out his abhorrent crimes. Well, that didn’t happen. In case you haven’t heard, Zachary Cruz, who is the 18-year-old younger brother of shooter Nikolas Cruz, was arrested yesterday for trespassing at Stoneman Douglas High School. At his bond hearing today, prosecutor Sarahnell Murphy passionately requested that Judge Kim Mollica raise his bond for the misdemeanor charge from the standard amount of $25.00 to $750,000. While the judge didn’t go along with the State’s request, she did impose a bond in the amount of $500,000, along with many other significant additional non-monetary bond conditions. After today’s bond hearing, many are asking the question, “Was the $500,000 bond imposed for Nikolas Cruz justified?”

ANALYSIS

What Zachary Cruz Allegedly Did
Zachary Cruz is alleged to have admitted to police that he entered Stoneman Douglas High and rode through on his skateboard in spite of having been ordered previously to stay away from the school. The high school day ends at 2:40 p.m. It’s being reported that Zachary entered the school campus at 4:30 p.m. It’s also being reported that he spent no more than 10 minutes at the school. When asked why he went to the school, he allegedly stated that he wanted to reflect on what his brother had done. Zachary allegedly also admitted that he visited the school a couple of additional times since the shooting. Deputies also claim that when they asked Zachary what his plans for the future are, he responded, “I don’t know right now.”

Prosecution arguments
In court Tuesday, prosecutor Murphy told bond court Judge Mollica that it would be irresponsible to treat Zachary’s trespassing charge like any other typical trespassing case. She argued that Zachary Cruz is as dangerous as his brother and that weeks after his brother murdered 17 students and injured and terrorized more, he showed up at the school “with no legitimate purpose.” Murphy claimed that as a result of Zachary’s visits to the school, some extremely fearful parents even refused to allow their teenaged children from going to school today. Murphy also told the judge that during one of his jail visits, Zachary discussed with his brother how popular Nikolas had become and how “his face is everywhere.” Zachary even discussed starting a fan club on his brother’s behalf and allegedly stated that Nikolas could attract a lot of girls as a result of his recent infamy.
Prosecutors also expressed concerns that Zachary is a risk of flight and may not return to court when the matter is reset. Additionally, Judge Mollica was informed that Zachary Cruz was Baker Acted after the shooting and was treated for mental health issues.

Defense arguments
Zachary Cruz’s court appointed attorney argued that his client just posted the $25 standard bond and was about to be released. He told the judge that no increase in the bond was necessary. Furthermore, he told the judge that the State was attempting to “make a show out of this” and punish his client simply because of who he is related to and not for what he did. The defense attorney pointed out that his client has never committed or been accused of any violent crimes and that trespass is a minor misdemeanor offense.

MY TAKE
First let me make clear what I have stated publicly numerous times. Nikolas Cruz is a very disturbed and violent person who should never be free again. What he did at that school by slaughtering so many innocent teens and injuring and terrorizing many others is abhorrent and worthy of significant punishment. What his brother Zachary did is something very different. There is no allegation that Zachary aided, abetted, assisted, encouraged, had any advance knowledge or even approved of what his brother did. His sole alleged crime is that he trespassed on school property. I am in no way defending or endorsing Zachary’s behavior in any way. I can understand the reaction of many parents who felt fear after learning that he made visits to the school after the shooting. I also will not defend the insensitive, offensive and juvenile comments he allegedly made during visits with his brother. What I will take exception with is the outrageous and shocking bond that the judge set in his misdemeanor trespass case.
As an adjunct law professor and after having practiced in the criminal arena as both a prosecutor and/or defense attorney for over 25 years, I’ve never seen anything remotely like this. Raising the bond from the standard amount of $25 to $500,000 is not only unfair, in my opinion, it’s a miscarriage of justice. While some of the points the prosecutor made were worth mentioning, they in no way should have persuaded the judge from making the bond decision that she did.
Aristotle defined justice as, “Like cases being treated alike.” So, in looking at similarly situated defendants charged with the same crime, even including those with extensive criminal histories, I am certain one couldn’t possibly come up with a single example of bond being set remotely this high. It just isn’t done.
So why should we care? The answer is that when one defendant is treated unfairly then our rights are in jeopardy and so are the rights of every other future defendant. We cannot tolerate such inequity in a system that is supposed to afford equal justice under the law. Additionally, judges should consider precedent and not be persuaded or motivated by fear, politics or the eye of the media. What was done today at Zachary Cruz’s bond hearing was just plain wrong and unfair.

CONCLUSION
I expect this decision to be reversed on appeal. While I can see how one judge chose to render an unjust and unsupported decision, I cannot envision an appellate court sustaining this miscarriage of justice.