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Judges have guidelines, some leeway, in determining bonds

A person is arrested and charged with a serious violent crime against another. Within 48 hours, the suspect must go before a judge to determine whether they will be given a bond and if so, how much and what type.

In Oxford and Lafayette County, that job falls to the Lafayette County Justice Court and its three judges.

The victim of the crime learns the suspect was given a “reasonable” bond and is back out on the streets. While the victim is 100 percent sure that suspect is guilty, by right under the U.S. Constitution, everyone who is arrested is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

“Bond is not supposed to be punitive or intended for punishment, but to ensure that defendants will appear for court hearings,” said Lafayette County Justice Court Judge Mickey Avent. “The 8th Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits imposing excessive bail.”

In 2016, the Mississippi Supreme Court, put out a recommended range of bail amounts for judges to set in felony and misdemeanor cases.

All crimes, except capital felonies, are bailable offenses. In capital felony cases, “when the proof is evident or the presumption great” and when the accused person was previously convicted of a capital offense or an offense punishable by imprisonment for a maximum of 20 years or more, a judge can deny bond.

In all other crimes, judges are highly encouraged – but not mandated – to follow the sentencing guidelines that include:

  • Manslaughter – $10,000 to $1,000,000
  • Drug Distribution and Trafficking $ 5,000 to $1,000,000

All other non-capital felonies:

  • punishable by maximum 20 years or more $20,000 to $250,000
  • punishable by maximum 10 years to 20 years $10,000 to $100,000
  • punishable by maximum up to 10 years $ 5,000 to $50,000

Misdemeanor bonds range from $50 to $2,000.

Judges are also encouraged to set most bonds on the lower-end of the guideline ranges.

“The Mississippi Supreme Court has set forth certain criteria to be applied in determining the amount of bail that should be required as a prerequisite to the defendant’s release,” Avent said.

Those criteria include how long the suspect has lived in the community; their employment status; family ties and relationships; reputation, character and mental condition; prior criminal record; nature of the offense; the level of violence and the type of weapon used; flight risk indicators; and whether the suspected poses a safety risk to the community.

In a 2017, Criminal Rules Committee of the Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Jim Kitchens told Mississippi justice court judges during a presentation of the Mississippi Rules of Criminal Procedure that their job as justice court judges is to “make it reasonable for a presumptively innocent person to go home and perhaps work while his or her case is pending in court.”

“’Reasonable’ may mean that it’s reasonable to order the release of an accused person on his/her personal recognizance, or on a totally unsecured bond. Bear in mind that every accused person is presumed to be innocent,” Kitchens said.