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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Ind. Decisions - "Appeals court criticizes rigid cash bond system in Decatur County; local judges say they’re careful to offer other options "

That is the headline to this story today in the Greenfield Daily Reporter, written by Noelle Steele. It begins:

GREENFIELD — Cash bonds remain the norm in Hancock County courts despite an appellate court ruling that chastised a Decatur County judge for refusing to allow a defendant to hire a bail bondsman as an alternative to forking over $25,000.

While uncommon, surety bonds are still an option in Hancock County courts, which means the Indiana Court of Appeals ruling won’t affect how business is done here, local judges say.

Judge Terry Snow of Hancock Superior Court 1 estimated that about 95 percent of the bonds set in his courtroom are cash only. In the vast majority of his cases, Snow said, he first sets a cash bond; then, when the defendant returns to court with a lawyer, there is the option to discuss whether a surety bond or a reduced cash bond is more appropriate.

Unfortunately, that is all that is available online; access to the rest of the story is limited to those subscribing to the print publication.

The ILB was, however, able to locate the "appellate court ruling that chastised a Decatur County judge." It is Melissa Kay Sneed v. State, an 11-page April 25, 2011 opinion by Chief Judge Robb, reversing in part an opinion by Matthew D. Bailey, Judge of the Decatur Superior Court. The portion alluded to in today's story begins on p. 9:

In addition to a reduction in the amount of bail, Sneed also requested that the trial court allow her to post a surety bond rather than requiring her to deposit the entire amount in cash. By statute, a trial court has several options regarding the manner of executing bail; it may require the defendant to: execute a bail bond with sufficient solvent sureties; deposit cash or securities in an amount equal to the bail; deposit cash or securities in an amount not less than ten percent of the bail, as a court-sponsored bond; execute a bond secured by real estate in the county, with requirements for the tax value of the real estate; post a real estate bond; or perform any combination of the above requirements. Ind. Code § 35-33-8-3.2(a). This statute, like the statute governing the amount of bail, “also places the manner of executing the bail within the discretion of the trial judge.” Mott, 490 N.E.2d at 1129 (interpreting similarly-worded predecessor statute, former Indiana Code section 35-33-8-3). In reviewing the trial court’s exercise of discretion, we look to the same factors as are relevant to setting the amount of bail. Id.

The record shows Sneed was without the funds to post the entire $25,000 in cash. Thus it is only proper to consider the type of bail set by the trial court. In effect, by denying Sneed the option of a surety bond provided by a bail bondsman, the trial court condemned her to jail pending trial without explicitly ordering her to be held or articulating any reason for doing so. While the severity of the charges supported a bond set at $25,000, the absence of any other factors suggesting Sneed was a flight risk leads us to conclude the trial court should have granted Sneed’s request for the option of a surety bond. Cf. Mott, 490 N.E.2d at 1129 (concluding based on statutory factors that trial court did not abuse its discretion by requiring a surety bond rather than ten percent cash bond).

We recognize and reaffirm that “the inability to procure the amount necessary to make bond does not in and of itself render the amount unreasonable.” Id. at 1128. Nonetheless, we conclude under the facts and circumstances of this case that the trial court abused its discretion by requiring cash only bail and denying Sneed’s request for the option of a surety bond. While we affirm the trial court’s decision not to reduce the amount of Sneed’s bond, we remand with instructions that the trial court give Sneed the option of a surety bond.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on October 22, 2011 10:13 AM
Posted to Ind. App.Ct. Decisions