Being on bond means the defendant is released from custody while their case is pending. There are certain conditions of bond that depend on the case and the defendant. But one condition that's always in effect is that the defendant cannot be arrested.
Being in violation of bail bond is bad news. The State files the violation petition and it just gets ugly. Misdemeanor cases are not too problematic. However, catching a felony while on felony bond creates a mess. Here is a recent example of mine.
Client arrested for felony #1 is bonded out for $2000. He hires me before his preliminary hearing. We lose the preliminary hearing, but I see it's a good case at trial. I ask the cop questions that will help later.
A month later this case is arraigned and continued for a month. The night before the next court date, the client calls to tell me he has a preliminary hearing the next morning. What? You got a new case? You didn't think to tell me? You're out on $4000 bond on that one? You hired another attorney for the 2nd case? Oh...he's going to beat it at preliminary. Ah I see. Good luck. I will be in court tomorrow for your 1st case, waiting for you.
I walk into court the next morning. The prosecutors already know about the 2nd case. They have prepared a petition for violation of bail bond (V.O.B.B.). They ask if I know about the 2nd case. I tell them no, but the preliminary is probably taking place right now.
The client finally shows up at 11:00. He lost the preliminary. He wants to know if the judge is going to lock him up. Yep. Probably. The State filed a V.O.B.B. Bond has to be set on it. But I am already on 2 bonds? Yes, and now the violation of the first bond has to have bond set.
This is confusing. I know. The judge sets bond on the violation. The client needs $10,000 to walk. He is taken into custody right in the courtroom. His lady friend starts to cry a little. The first case is continued. The second case is coming to the same courtroom.
Now we have more problems. He has two cases. He has two lawyers. The State will elect to prosecute only one case. The non-elected case is just put on hold. Who knows which case will be elected.
Eventually, the client lets me know he wants me to handle the 2nd case as well. I show up to arraign it while knowing nothing about it (remember another attorney did its preliminary hearing).
I am wondering which case I am going to get to fight it out over. The 1st case was a Class 1 possession with intent to deliver. This was my case from the start. I thought it was a good case at trial. The 2nd case was a simple Class 4 possession.
In theory, if we beat the 1st case, the State can then elect to litigate the 2nd case. Having 1 felony case is a bad idea. Having 2 at the same time...horrible.
In the end, the client didn't want to fight anything. He wanted to plead on both cases and do his prison time. And he told me this, well whispered this to me, in front of the judge. 4 months ago this man wanted me to draw a sword and fight like a gladiator for him. Now he's not up for blood and guts.
I enter a plea of not guilty to the 2nd case and ask that both cases be passed. That just means they are put aside. I need to talk to my client. The very pleasant prosecutor whispers that she will look at the files and make me an offer.
Yes, offers. That's how most cases around here are moved along. Offer. Counter-offer. Counter, counter-offer. Acceptance. Deal.
Back in the holding cell I remind the client the worst part of catching a new felony while on felony bond...the sentences are ran consecutively by law. That's right, if found guilty or guilty pleas are entered, time is done on the first case and then time is done on the second case. That's consecutive sentencing.
To say he was stunned would be an understatement. As charged he was looking at a minimum of 4 years on the first case and 1 year on the second. So, it would be 4 and 1 at a minimum. I told him I thought I could do better than that.
I met with the State. This prosecutor is young. Last year at this time she was doing preliminary hearings. One morning she was all alone and things were a bit hectic. The judge was yelling at her. I helped her out and calmed down the judge. She must have remembered me. Or not.
I pointed out that neither of the State's cases were super strong. But I didn't do it in a threatening way. I was friendly. And it had been a while since my client had a case. But he has 2 cases now, counsel. Yes, quite right. 2 iffy cases. [Note: I hate being called counsel. Hate it. Hate it. Hate it. ]
She offered to reduce the possession with intent to deliver to straight possession and give my client 1 and 2 years. Oh come one, let's do 1 and 1. It sounds so much nicer. Ok. 1 and 1 it is.
The client took the deal. It didn't get any better. Each 1 year sentence will be about 61 days of real time. So 4 months on 2 felony drug cases that were bond on bond. That's a very good deal.
I wanted to fight though. I really did. But once again, an unattainably high bond help convince another to just plead guilty because it would get them home quicker than sitting in the county jail while fighting the case(s).
There has to be a better way to do this. Some might argue the system really works if my fight/defense would have been based on legal technicalities or failure of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. In other words, if my client was guilty in both cases, then justice was served. Perhaps.
But what if he's innocent of one or both? What happened then? If that's the case, he was coerced, directly or indirectly, into pleading guilty. I don't like that.