TAMPA, Fla. — A fund is now set up to help out those arrested during protests. It started with the Community Bail Fund set up by Orlando-based attorney Matt Morgan.
Now, there’s a local fund as well. The Tampa Dream Defenders and St. Petersburg attorney Michele Rayner are putting the fund together so those put in jail for low-level, non-violent crimes have a way to pay their bail.
Rayner says she’s seen first hand what not being able to afford a bond can do to people.
“I’ve had clients who have taken pleas for things they have said they didn’t do. But because they couldn’t afford the bail that was set, they took the plea to get out of,” she said.
Rayner says she also can’t understand why some of those people arrested are being held with no bond.
She says she’s never seen people unable to bond out for second-degree misdemeanors.
We reached out to the Sixth Judicial Circuit with questions about what Rayner calls “excessive” bails.
Spokesperson Stephen Thompson sent us this statement:
“Pursuant to Florida law and the Rules Of Criminal Procedure, a person who is arrested must be brought to a first appearance hearing before a judge within 24 hours of arrest and at that time a judge determines the appropriate bond. The sheriff and his booking staff at the jail have the authority to set bond or release certain offenders prior to the first appearance. The sheriff and arresting officers are also authorized to contact a judge rather than setting a bond themselves. The sheriff contacted the chief judge regarding the arrests being made for criminal acts occurring while law enforcement was attempting to disburse an unlawful assembly. The chief judge determined there was no statutory requirement that a bond be set in such matters before the first appearance hearing and that the decisions regarding conditions of release would be addressed upon facts presented at that hearing. As noted on the complaint, in conformity with that determination, no bond was set by the arresting officer. All of the individuals arrested received a timely hearing in court at which point the advisory judge addressed the specific facts presented.
These were extenuating circumstances. Chief Judge Rondolino wanted the judge at advisories to hear the circumstances of each defendant’s arrest, as well as the defendant’s criminal background. There was a concern some people might have been using what were largely peaceful protests as a cover for criminal activity.
A judge typically doesn’t comment as to what was on his mind when he made a decision from the bench. What I can say is the advisory judge is obligated to set a reasonable bond after hearing the facts known to him at that time.
The bond schedule is a recommended starting point. As the administrative order containing the bond schedule clearly states, the judge is not obligated to follow it to a T.
To get help with the bail fund in Hillsborough County, call 813-609-2244. In Pinellas County, the number to call is 813-530-6155.