A bond hearing is a hearing in front of a magistrate or a judge where the judge will decide if bonds can be set for certain offenses. A bond hearing is different from an arraignment because the bond hearing is for the purpose of deciding whether the judge shall issue bond so that the person may be released. In contrast, an arraignment is the formal charging process where the person is notified of the charges that will go forward in the court system.
Throughout a bond hearing a criminal lawyer can be a major factor in what the person’s bond is or whether they receive bond at all. With this said, it is important to get in contact with an attorney as soon as possible so they can begin investigating the offense and preparing a defense.
In Georgia, bond hearings are generally held at the county magistrate courts. Many of these courts are located in the county jails. If bond is denied at that level, then the person has a right to ask for a second bond hearing in either the state or superior court, depending where the charges go. Most of the counties have a state court that handles jury trials for misdemeanor cases. Every county has a superior court, which handles all types of cases including any case that has a felony charge, so a person can actually ask for a second bond hearing at the trial level court in either a state court or superior court.
The factors for setting bond in court for misdemeanor and felony cases are the same in Georgia. The only difference is who can set bond. In all misdemeanor cases, any court that has jurisdiction over the charges may set bond. For a limited number of felonies, including aggravated child molestation, murder, kidnapping with bodily harm, and some other charges, bond may only be set in Georgia by a superior court judge, but whether it is a DUI charge or a kidnapping charge, the factors to be considered are the same.
Set forth by Georgia law, there are certain factors that the judge is required to look at in Georgia before setting bond, which include whether the person is a flight risk and their ties to the community. To determine if the person has ties to the community, the judge will consider if the person is from the state, if they have family here, if they are a US citizen, and if they have a foreign passport. These factors determine whether the judge believes the person will stay and answer the charges or whether they will run away.
The judge will then decide whether the person is a risk to the community—specifically a risk to commit further felonies. In this regard, judges look at the nature of the current charges and the person’s criminal history. The next factor is whether the person is a risk to harass or intimidate witnesses. Again, this is a fact-based encounter; it really depends on who the witnesses are. If the witnesses are also the victims, if they are minors, or if they are family members, it might be an indication that the person is likely to harass or intimidate them. However, if the witnesses are law enforcement officers, then it is less likely that they will be subjected to harassment.
Preparation is the key prior to a bond hearing, because the attorney needs to look at the facts of the case, the person’s criminal history, the past case, and the person’s criminal history to address each of the statutory bond issues. For example, if one of the factors that might be an area of concern is if the person does not have sufficient ties to the community, perhaps the person is not a US citizen.
With the defendants permission, the attorney can reach out to the family and get the person’s passport to offer to surrender the passport to the court so that the person will have a greater difficulty fleeing the country. Also, if one of the factors to be considered is the harassment of possible witnesses, if the witnesses against the defendant live in the same household, then the attorney can help the defendant find a different place to live and that can be presented to the judge.
Also, many times, it is helpful to have family members come to court to sit and show support. The defense attorney can introduce those individuals to the judge so the judge can see that this person is a valued person—a person with support, help finding a job, help with transportation, and so will not have to return to crime to support themselves.
The key is that the legal professional must prepare and the attorney must look at the facts of the case, including the person’s criminal history, to prepare a plan to present to the judge and not merely go in and ask to receive bond.