25 March 2017

What's in a Bond (Hearing)?

The setting of a bond is one of those things prosecutors and defense attorneys skirmish over all the time. Should the Pitcairn Axe Murderer get a bond? No. Should someone charged with a first-time reckless driving misdemeanor because of speed get a bond? Almost certainly, yes.  But what about the serial shoplifter who goes to various stores and walks out with a pack of gum one day and an Enquirer the next week and Snickers bar the week after that? These are the cases all us attorneys get together and conspire to give judges migraines over.

Those of you who watch a lot of TV hear "bail" talked about all the time. In a Virginia court you'll almost never hear that word. Instead you'll always hear "bond" talked about. For the sake of clarification, here are the basic definitions. Bail means being on pretrial release. Bond is the amount of money paid to get released. As a practical matter the word "bond" has been used to mean both of these things wherever I've practiced in Virginia (your mileage may differ) so you will hear me, other Virginia attorneys, and frequent fliers saying things like "he's on bond."

CONSTITUTIONS: To begin any discussion of this sort of topic we must look to the constitutions. It does not appear that the federal constitution's requirement that "Excessive bail shall not be required" has been applied to the States, although it is probable that all States have adopted similar requirements under their constitutions. Virginia adopted the a very similar constitutional provision - only leaving out the "shall." In Article I section 9 it states "That excessive bail ought not to be required." Both of these are lifted from the English Bill of Rights of 1689 which stated "that excessive bail ought not to be required." Note that this was not intended to declare a universal right to bail; it was meant to close loopholes used to keep those entitled to bail from being able to exercise that right. There is not and never has been a universal right to bail.

Beyond all that, Virginia's constitution demands more balance than the federal constitution. Article I section 8-A states that victims have "The right to protection from further harm or reprisal through the imposition of appropriate bail and conditions of release.

Once you get past the generalities and purpose of the constitutional provisions there must be a manner in which they are applied. There's a two part test in Virginia. First, a judge must decide if the defendant should be on bond. Second, if a judge decides that bond is appropriate he must decide what conditions of pretrail release are appropriate.

SHOULD THERE BE A BOND?:  Under 19.2-120, a person is entitled to bond unless (1) the judge finds that there is probable cause: (a) the defendant is unlikely to appear, or (b) the defendant is likely to hurt himself or others, or (2) the defendant is charged with any of a number of offenses listed in the statute (in the main violent and sexual charges, being already on bond for a felony charge, as well as the second time dealing a schedule I/II drug). In the second case a defendant can still get a bond, but he must overcome a presumption against bond (presumably to a preponderance standard).  (2)(c) The factors which the General Assembly has laid out to use in deciding whether the presumption has been overcome are: (i) nature and circumstances of the charge, (ii) the history and characteristics of the person, and (iii) danger to the community upon release.  Also note that there are similar presumption against bond provisions for illegal aliens under 19.2-120.1.  My experience has been that while some judges hold harder to the rebuttable presumption than others, all will decide that it has been overcome at some point.

WHAT KIND OF BOND SHOULD THERE BE?:  (A)  Conditions:  If a judge does decide to let a defendant out on bail there are several conditions he can set per 19.2-123, but the only ones that really mean anything are (1) the amount of bond to be posted, and (2) the possible imposition of pretrial services. The first of these is by far the more significant as pretrial services really can't stop someone from shoplifting or going to beat up a witness or running away to Oklahoma City; the bars of the jail can.  (B) Requirement: In setting conditions the judge is required to accomplish two things: (1) Assure the defendant comes back to court, and (2) insure the defendant is on good behavior prior to trial.  19.2-121.  (C) Considerations: In setting these conditions the judge is to consider (1) nature and circumstances of the crime, (2) use of a firearm, (3) weight of the evidence, (4) ability of the defendant to pay bond, (5) character of the defendant including (a) family ties, (b) employment, and (c) if she's in school, (6) length of residence in the community, (7) criminal record, (8) any prior failures to attend court, (9) whether the defendant is likely to try to obstruct justice, and (10) other factors.  19.2-121.

All the factors in setting a bond make sense except (4) above (19.2-121(iv) in the statute).  That one is problematic. On the one hand, it is arguably a sound consideration in determining if a bond is excessive for that individual. On the other hand, there is nothing in Virginia's constitution (or the 8th Amendment) that says "excessive for that individual."  Let's assume a defendant stands charged with malicious wounding and judge first decides that there has been a rebuttal of the presumption against bond then decides based upon all the other factors that an objectively appropriate bond is $10,000 (secured by cash or property).  If the defendant protests that he can only make $5,000 bond and the judge lowers it to $5,000, isn't he violating both (1) the requirements of the statute and (2) the requirements of Art. I sec 8-A of the Virginia constitution? After all, he has set the bond which he objectively believes will assure appearance in court and good behavior prior to trial - which would include protecting the victim from further harm or reprisal as required by the Virginia constitution. Lowering that bond because of the defendant's financial situation can only lessen the the assurance of appearance, lessen the probability of good behavior pretrial, and lessen the protections guaranteed for the victim. Sure the judge can write on a piece of paper "no contact", but we all know how useful that piece of paper is at 3 a.m. when the defendant shows up at the victim's house. The same goes for pretrial services. It can do weekly check-ins and drug screens, but it isn't a lot of good during that 3 a.m. confrontation either. This part of the statute really should be excised and if it's not, it should be the  very least of the factors considered by the judge.

19 March 2017

Appeals by a Virginian Prosecutor

Okay, so you're a prosecutor in Virginia and you've always liked Judge Smith, but he just made the most amazingly boneheaded decision you've seen in years. Can you appeal and how in the heck do you do it?

Well, you can, but it's limited to certain circumstances laid out in 19.2-398. Basically, this breaks down to (1) a dismissal of charges for speedy trial violations or constitutional reasons, (2) suppression of evidence for constitutional reasons, (3) bond conditions, (4) the judge violates mandatory sentencing statutes, and (5) if the judge rules a statute unconstitutional and dismisses the charges. If you've got a case that might fit go read the statute to make sure.

So, your case fits. Judge Smith suppressed the evidence in your Felony Snipe Hunting charges because he believes there was an unconstitutional search under the 4th Amendment. What do you do now?

Well, prosecutors in Virginia have very different rules for their appeals than defendants do. So even if you spent years doing appeals as a defense attorney, or maybe because you spent years doing appeals as a defense attorney, you need to know that the timeline is much, much shorter and conduct yourself accordingly.

First off, you need to know that the luxuriously long 30 days that defense attorneys have to file notice of appeal ain't there for you. Nope, under 19.2-400 a prosecutor gets a whole 7 days to file a notice of appeal (not even seven business days). First things first, get the judge to sign an order for transcripts to be typed up. Here again the timeline is different. Unlike an order for a defense appeal, your transcripts must be delivered no more than 25 days from the trial court's suppression order (defense gets 60), although the Court of Appeals can grant up to a 45 day extension. 19.2-405. Once you've gotten the order for transcription, file your notice of appeal. Rule 5A:6 is the form used to note an appeal. HOWEVER, be aware that it is not complete if you are a prosecutor. In addition to what's in 5A:6, if you are appealing a suppression of evidence you must "certify in the notice of appeal that the appeal is not taken for the purpose of delay and that the evidence is substantial proof of a fact material to the proceeding." 19.2-400. Note also that the written portion of 5A:6 wants a lot more information about both counsel than the form it gives you including whether defense counsel is hired or appointed, email addresses, Bar numbers, &cetera. Per Rule 5A:6, send the notice of appeal to the circuit court clerk, opposing counsel, and the clerk of the Court of Appeals. DO NOT FORGET to send along a fifty dollar check to the clerk of the Court of Appeals as your filing fee (because the  government paying the government always makes so much sense). Nope. Don't send any money. The fee is non-applicable per 17.1-266. At least it is according to a nice letter we just got from the Court of Appeals returning our check. Of course, on previous occasions they've taken our checks, so . . .

Then you wait until the transcript arrives. After this arrives, you must file a notice of its arrival and filing with the clerk of the circuit court (who should already have a copy) and send a copy to the defense attorney; make sure to certify that the notice has been sent to the defense attorney. 19.2-403THIS NOTICE MUST BE FILED WITHIN 3 days of receiving the transcript or 14 days of the judge's suppression order, whichever is later. 19.2-403.

From the day the notice of transcripts is filed, you have 14 days to file your petition19.2-402.  Send 4 copies to the clerk of the court of appeals and 1 copy to the defense attorney. Rule 5A:12.  Thereafter the defense attorney will have 14 days to file his brief in opposition.  19.2-402.  After that the only thing you might have too do is an oral presentation to judges of the Court of Appeals, if you demanded one in your petition. Then, the Court of Appeals decides whether to accept the petition within 30 days of the defense attorney's brief.  19.2-403. If it does, the Attorney General takes over and you just wait until someone sends you the result. 19.2-404. If you lose, you lose. The Supreme Court of Virginia doesn't exist as far as we're concerned. 19.2-408.

Okay, so that covers the timeline. Now, what should be in the petition? 

Petitions are pretty standard no matter who is filing them and they are governed by Rule 5A. DO NOT USE RULE 5. For some unknown, unfathomable, and irrational reason, the Supreme Court's petition/brief requirements always vary from the Court of Appeals' petition/brief requirements. Once in a while the worst of these variances gets fixed (Questions/Errors), but don't take the chance that a variance will get your petition kicked on a technicality.

What I put in a petition and the order I put them in (See Rule 5A:12):

1. Cover Page - Not required but makes a better presentation.

2. Table of Contents - List everything the Rules require and anything else you thought important enough to give its own header.

3. Table of Authorities - List every case (alphabetically), statute, or other authority and every place it is cited in your petition.

4. Nature of the Case & Material Proceedings Below - Briefly state (a paragraph or two) what type of case it is, what hearings took place, and the results of the hearings.

5. "Assignments of Error" - MUST be a separate section. MUST be under exactly that heading. MUST contain all errors you want to appeal. These errors must be more than a bare allegation of error; they are to describe the error without being overly verbose. MUST have a citation attached to each error where it occurred / was preserved. For this last, a defense attorney would normally cite where he objected. In most cases you probably don't need to do that as you are arguing against a defense motion and your objection is inherit in that (object to the ruling anyway to be safe).  HOWEVER, if a judge errs during sentencing of mandatory sentences note your objection. There was no defense motion here and therefore a much stronger argument that you waive your objection by not stating it to the trial court.

5. Statement of Facts - A summary of the facts of the case with citation to the record. Typically, this will be in the following format: Sentence, cite. Sentence, cite. Sentence, cite. Example: The defendants were caught snipe hunting (Tr. 23).

6. Authorities & Argument - This is where you (1) state the law as it applies to your facts, (2) the standard the Court of Appeals should use in reviewing the error, and (3) how the facts should have been dealt with in accord with that law. I like to break this up  in two sections for each error. I first lay out the law and standard under an Authorities section and then lay its proper application under an Argument section.

7. Conclusion - Brief summary of all the things you are right about and then STATE THE RELIEF you are asking for. It doesn't do much good to make the most perfect argument ever seen in the annals of Virginia's history if you don't ask anything to be done with it. After all, you could just be asking the Court of Appeals to make the judge be nicer to you. You could be asking for a writ of mandamus requiring the comp board to actually pay you a decent salary.. They don't know. They're just simple appellate judges who need these things spelled out for them. Typically, relief asked for will be an overruling of the trial judge and a return to the trial court for further proceedings.

There is no listed order for the sections of the petition, so you can exercise some discretion. Just don't be stupid about it. Remember, if the Court of Appeals rejects your perfect argument because your first section was the Conclusion and your last was your Assignments of Error you lose. You don't get to appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court and get a ruling that essentially says "Yes, it's stupid, but it's within the rules. Remand." You Lose.

8: Contact Information - Somebody's Bar number, phone number, address,, and email has to go on the petition. If you're proud of your work put yours. If you're not then there's always the newest kid in the office - he'll never notice. 
(and for those of you too literal minded to realize that's a joke - That's A Joke - put your dang name on your work).

9. Certification - You must certify when you sent a copy of the petition to defense counsel, whether you want to state orally why the petition should be granted, that the number of words in the petition is less than 12,300 (state the number in the petition exactly)(this last requirement is from Rule 5A:4), and that 4 copies have been sent to the clerk of the Court of Appeals. This last one doesn't seem to be required, but everybody does it anyway.

Other things to remember: Don't forget the format requirements under 5A:4. Font must be 12-point or higher. Paper must be 11.5 X 8". Double space your text except for Assignment of Errors, headings, quotes, and footnotes. Don't screw with your margins. Use black print on white paper.

Almost all of that comes out of the early days of computer printing when petitions and briefs were limited by page length instead of word count. I wouldn't expect those problems to surface much in modern days.

Interestingly, the Court of Appeals has not limited its font types like the Virginia Supreme Court has. I'd suggest keeping it to easy to read fonts such as the VaSC had previously limited its filings to (Arial, Verdona, and Courier) especially if you're going to keep your font at 12-point. They're not pretty fonts, but they're easily readable even after you've already read thirty briefs that day. The pretty  fonts (Times New Roman, Palatino Lynotype, &cetera) look better, but the serifs and swirls all blend together if you're over 35 years old and have been reading for an hour or two. [As an aside, the VaSC is going to regret allowing these fancy-blur together fonts. All the young attorneys will use them to impress the Court. All the older attorneys will use them to impress the client. All the Supreme Court Justices will go blind trying to read them (unless maybe the VaSC's requirement of 14-point font saves them.)]

And now I've taught you all the basics of filing a prosecutor's appeal to the Court of Appeals of Virginia. Go forth, be fruitful, and appellefy.