I’m often asked to write about real cases that I’ve handled and/or learned about first hand that provide insight into the criminal justice arena. Here’s one that I remember that sheds light on how random a defendant’s bond can be.
I was involved in a Florida criminal case where the defendant was a trusted bookkeeper for a very successful Miami company. Over the course of a two year period, it was uncovered that she stole money at least once a week. Because every time she stole money from the company the amount was over $300, she was facing felony grand theft charges for every act of theft. That means that she could have been charged with approximately one hundred separate counts of grand theft, each punishable by a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison. Additionally, every count carries with it a separate bond amount. For each count of grand theft in the third degree (amount taken is between $300 and $5000), the bond amount is $5000. That means, assuming she stole on one hundred separate occasions, her bond amount would be $500,000. Also, she’d be facing up to five hundred years in prison.
Fortunately for her, she was charged with one count of organized scheme to defraud. The charge takes all the separate acts of theft together and combines them into one scheme to defraud made up of numerous separate acts of theft. It’s a felony in the first degree, punishable by a statutory maximum sentence of up to thirty years in prison, carrying a standard bond amount of $15,000.
Obviously, the two ways that she could have been charged differ drastically. If she would have been charged for each separate act of theft, she would have found it impossible to post a bond and secure her release from jail. If she was charged that way, it’s quite possible that a judge would have considered lowering the half a million dollar bond, however, that isn’t something that is automatic. That would be up to the judge and he/she has sole discretion on whether to reduce the bond. By charging this case with one count instead of 100, my client was able to come up with the ten percent needed to give to the bondsman for him to post the total bond of $15,000.
The point should be obvious. What type of bond a defendant gets hinges, in large part, on what initial charges law enforcement brings against them. Depending on the charges, a defendant’s experience can be drastically different.