Why Trevor Dooley is out of jail: Understanding appeal bonds in Florida

There has been a great deal of media lately about the outrage of the dead man’s widow that shooter Trevor Dooley is out of jail.

The judge has the discretion to set an appeal bond, formally known as a supersedes bond.  The authority for an appeal bond, and the requirements, can be found in Fla. Stat.  § 903.132Fla. R. App. P. 9.140 and Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.691.  There are also many cases in Florida jurisprudence that interpret these statute and rules.

The factors to be considered in giving a convicted defendant bond while on appeal are:

(a)           Whether the appeal is taken “on good faith on grounds not frivolous but fairly debatable”;

(b)           The habits of the defendant as to his respect for the law;

(c)           The defendant’s local attachments to the community by way of family ties, business, or investment;

(d)           The severity of the punishment imposed for the offense;

(e)           The length of the term of imprisonment where the denial of bail would render nugatory the right to appeal from the judgment of conviction; and

(f)            Any other circumstances relevant to the question of whether the defendant would be tempted to remove himself from the jurisdiction of the court.

A condition of any appeal bond is that the defendant will “surrender himself or herself in execution of the judgment or sentence on its being affirmed or modified or on the appeal being dismissed; or in case the judgment is reversed and the cause remanded for a new trial, the defendant will appear in the court to which the cause may be remanded for a new trial, that the defendant will appear in the court to which the cause may be remanded and submit to the orders and process thereof and will not depart the jurisdiction of the court without leave.”  See Rule 3.691(d).

I have not read the order written by the judge in Dooley’s case, so I do not know what the final formal findings were with regard to each of these factors.  I heard that there was a finding that the “Stand Your Ground” pre-trial motion was found to be a “fairly debatable” issue, and rightly so.  Facts relating to the other issues can be gleaned from the media coverage of this case.

I urge everyone to consider the law when thinking about this situation.  Prior to trial, the law presumes that everyone is entitled to a bond (except in cases punishable by life or death) – that determination is made on a case-by-case basis as far as the conditions of the release (amount of bond, restriction on travel and residence, etc).  The extension of the law to appeal bonds is for no different reason.  It allows for a person to maintain a fundamental Constitutional right – to liberty – while a close (or “fairly debatable”) case is being examined.

As with the death penalty, we as a society must refrain from the French “Reign of Terror” mentality, wherein public executions became an attraction.  We are a society of law – not just on the street, but in the courts as well.  In each situation, we as a society must know that the right conclusion has been reached, and that the laws – including the law of punishment – have properly been applied.  Then, we all have a collective clean conscience.

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