Florida Court: Judges Can’t Look into Source of Bail Payments

A state appeals court in Lakeland recently issued an important decision that could have a significant impact on anyone charged with a Florida drug crime. The court pumped the brakes on what it called an increasingly common move to prevent a person charged with a crime from being released from jail pending trial, even when he or she has paid bail. Some judges in the Sunshine State and across the country had been slowing the release process by saying they want to look into how the person came up with the bail money. Thanks to Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal, those questions are now out of bounds.

Legal News GavelBail is a form of insurance for the criminal justice system. A person charged with a crime generally has the option to put up a certain amount of bail money in exchange for his or her release pending trial. The person gets the money back if he or she shows up at the trial. The idea is that the money ensures that the person will return to court.

The Second District case centered on a Florida man charged with various drug crimes. The judge hearing his case set the man’s bail but agreed with prosecutors to continue holding the man in jail pending a so-called “Nebbia” hearing. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in a 1966 case called United States v. Nebbia ruled that trial courts have discretion to look into how a person intends to pay bail in order to gauge whether he or she will show up for trial if released. Although that kind of hold may be allowable under federal court rules, the Florida appeals court said there was nothing in the state law justifying the move.

“Every accused has a constitutional right to pretrial release on reasonable conditions, with two—and only two—exceptions,” the court said. The first exception is for people charged with crimes that carry a possible death sentence. The second exception is for situations in which “no conditions of release can reasonably protect the community from physical harm to persons, ensure the accused’s presence at trial, or ensure the integrity of the judicial process,” the court explained.

As a result, the court said Nebbia holds to inquire about the source of funds used to post bail are barred by the Florida Constitution. Defendants who can pay money for bail must be released, unless one of the two exceptions above applies.

If you or a loved one has been charged with a drug or other crime in Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced attorney. Tampa drug crime lawyer Will Hanlon is a seasoned attorney who fights aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a wide range of offenses. Call our offices at (813) 228-7095 or contact us online to speak with Mr. Hanlon about your case.

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