Determining a Bond

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Houston County judges say the amounts for bond, or bail, are not set up as a punishment, but say it's a way to ensure that the defendant shows up for every court appearance.

Alabama law states that every person accused of a crime is entitled to a bond.

However, there are a few exceptions to this law.

District Attorney Doug Valeska explains, "Capital murder cases, sex crimes, sodomy, rape, dealing with children; the judge has the right to set a high bond or possibly even no bond if the defendant shows a propensity to violence."

At bond hearings, both the prosecution and the defense give their input, but the judge is the one that makes the final ruling.

These bond rulings are done on a case by a case basis.

"The court would take into consideration whether or not the defendant is a resident of the area, made contact with the area or has family in the area,” explains 20th Circuit Judge Larry Anderson. “The court would also take into consideration the nature of the crime [and] the more serious the offense, of course, the higher the bond will be.

Judge Anderson says some other factors that determine the amount of a bond are history of harm to the public, prior convictions, and flight risk.

Another important aspect judges must take into consideration is if the defendant has failed to show up in court before and how likely they are to commit the crime again.

This was the case with 19-year-old Mark Anthony Beecham. He was accused of sexually assaulting a woman in Headland as well as a Dothan woman.

He failed to show up to court, fled Alabama, and now faces similar charges in Florida.

Valeska says cases like Beecham are possible, but not likely. “That's very rare. When bonds are cut, mostly there are no problems. Believe it or not, most defendants do show up for court."

If a defendant is not satisfied with the bond ruling, they do have right to appeal to Circuit Court or Court of Criminal Appeals.

Circuit Court Judge Ed Jackson says in Houston County, there are approximately 1000 people awaiting trial for felony charges and there's just not enough room to hold them in the jail.

For this reason, he says setting bonds is both a legal and practical solution.

Other avenues are pre-trial detention programs, where the defendant is under the supervision of county corrections. Or, the use of a bonding company, which requires the defendant to pay a percentage of the total amount of the bond.