Tri-City Ledger -

By Joe Thomas
Ledger Editor 

Judges have guidelines on bonds


May 14, 2020

I hear the complaints and I'm sure judges hear the same complaints. I look at some, not all, social media complaints. The complaint is why can a person being charged with drug trafficking get a $1 million bond and a person accused of sexually abusing a child or possessing child pornography charges get a $500,000 bond.

I attended a bond hearing Tuesday where Richard James Rabon of East Brewton, charged with five counts of possession of child pornography was given a $500,000 bond by District Judge Eric Coale. The arrest warrants claim they found nude or semi-nude photos of girls as young as 8-years old on his telephone. The warrants also claim there was a video of an adult male having sexual intercourse with a girl believed to be 10-years old.

In the Feb. 27 edition of the Tri-City Ledger we had a story about Flomaton resident Stanley Dean Smith given a $500,000 bond by Judge Coale when Smith was accused of sexual abuse of a 7-year old girl.

In the March 12 edition of the Tri-City Ledger we had a story about Brandon Pugh of Brewton who was accused of sodomizing a child 4 or 5 years old and Pugh was given a $500,000 bond.

But in the May 7 edition of the Tri-City Ledger, we had a story about Jessica Danielle Griffis, who was charged with trafficking methamphetamine and she received a $1 million bond.

Makes you wonder doesn't it?

You've probably read such stories in this newspaper where the district attorney's office requests a very high bond and Judge Coale cuts it in half.

Bottom line is both are doing their job.

The state of Alabama, like other states, has bond guidelines. Now we can argue whether an accused child molester should get a lower bond than a drug trafficker, but judges must follow the law and the guidelines set by the Alabama Supreme Court.

Trafficking allows for a $1 million bond, sexual abuse of a child (under most circumstances) and possession of child pornography doesn't.

My guess is if you took a poll, the overwhelming majority of people would rather have people accused of molesting a child held without bond or taken out in front of the courthouse and hung.

The worst thing that could happen would be Judge Coale overstepping his legal boundaries and putting excessive bonds or no bonds on those accused of molesting a child or possessing child pornography. A first-year law student could get the bond reduced at a hearing. That simply costs the taxpayers more money.

I reached out to Escambia County's Presiding Circuit Judge Dave Jordan, who served as our district judge for 11 and a half years from 2003 to 2014. He's been in Judge Coale's shoes.

He told me a lot of what I already know, but he said everybody is entitled to a bond, unless the charge is capital murder.

He said judges can't use bonds as punishment because their only purpose is to make sure people will show up for court.

“People are still presumed innocent until proven guilty,” Judge Jordan told me. “People coming to a bond hearing are still presumed not guilty.”

Judge Jordan said when he was setting bonds as a district judge he looked at a lot of factors that included the rules handed down by the Supreme Court.

“You look at their previous history that includes their history of showing up to court,” Jordan said. “You look at whether the person is a threat if they are let out of jail. I considered that.”

But he said the bottom line is that judges must follow the constitution that says people have a right to a fair and reasonable bond.

He did add that the bond schedule for trafficking drugs allows for a $1.5 million bond.

When Judge Coale or any district judge before or after him sets a bond, rest assured they are setting those bonds under mandated guidelines. Judges take an oath of office to uphold the constitution and the law. From my view we have good judges that do that, even though some of their decisions may make their stomachs hurt.


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