As a Jacksonville Criminal Defense Lawyer, I have attended many Jacksonville bond hearings. In Jacksonville, a criminal defendant is given a first appearance where both the State Attorney and the defendant (or his lawyer) can present arguments and evidence. However, this is not always done. Due to the large calendar that Duval County judges are confronted with, first appearance court is often rushed. This results in an injustice to the defendant, a breakdown of the criminal justice system, and a violation of the Constitution.
Yesterday, an opinion was released by the Florida Second District Court of Appeals addressing this issue. In
Greenwood and Rice v. State, 36 Fla. L. Weekly D256c (Fla. 5th DCA 2011), the court did not conduct a proper bond hearing. The court did not permit the criminal defendants to testify. Instead, it “directed them to file motions for bond reduction, at which time they would be given a much greater opportunity to present evidence so that the matter could be more carefully considered by the court.” This was improper. The Florida appellate court ruled that “it is error for the trial court to refuse to give defendants at least a very brief opportunity to be heard at the first appearance hearing if they insist on it, even if defendants might be better served by a later hearing.” The court reasoned that the judge in first appearance court “must at least give the defense a reasonable amount of time to respond to the State’s presentation and, at the very least, must allow the defendant, upon request, to be sworn in and to briefly testify as to the relevant factors.”