What will happen at the Andrea Sneiderman Bond Hearing?
Shortly after Andrea Sneiderman's August 2, 2012, arrest, Judge Gregory Adams scheduled Sneiderman's bond hearing for August 21, 2012. Andrea Sneiderman has been sitting in the DeKalb County, Georgia, jail since the arrest. This post addresses the bond hearing prior to its occurrence.
First, I have received several inquiries from people wondering why Sneiderman's bond hearing was set 3 weeks after her arrest instead of within 48 hours or some shorter time. In Georgia, there is a procedure by which someone arrested for certain crimes may be held without bail. In those circumstances, a bail hearing need only be granted within 30 days of the arrest. It appears that Andrea Sneiderman was held without bail, and her bail hearing was set within 30 days of her arrest. See O.C.G.A. §17-6-1.
The next issues are what is a bond hearing, and what can happen at a bond hearing?
A bond hearing is the procedure by which the Court determines whether someone is “too risky” to be released into the public. Georgia statute 17-16-1(e) provides guidelines for the Court:
A court shall be authorized to release a person on bail if the court finds that the person:
Notice that the statute requires the Court to find that all four requirements be met. There is a rich history of case law providing further guidance to the Court regarding when to permit bail. For example:
- The state/DA has the burden of persuasion by a preponderance of evidence to show that Andrea Sneiderman is not entitled to pretrial release. Constantino v. Warren, 285 Ga. 851, 853 (2009).
- A defendant who has filed a petition seeking release on bail has the initial burden of showing, by means of evidence indicating roots in the community, employment, that the defendant does not pose a significant risk of fleeing, threatening the community, committing another crime, or intimidating a witness. The defendant's guilt or innocence of the underlying charge is not an issue at the bail hearing, especially since the defendant enters the proceeding cloaked with a presumption of innocence. Cowards v. State, 266 Ga. 191, 193 (1996).
- The amount of bail to be assessed in each criminal case is generally within the sound discretion of the trial judge. When fixing the amount of bail, the judge is to consider chiefly the probability that the accused, if freed, will appear at trial; other factors to be considered include the accused's ability to pay, the seriousness of the offense, and the accused's character and reputation. Spence v. State, 252 Ga. 338, 341 (1984).
To arrive at its decision regarding bail and pretrial release, the Court holds the bond hearing, and both the prosecution and the defense will be permitted to call witnesses and present other evidence in an attempt to influence the Court. Let's look at each requirement from the statute, and opine on the possible outcomes.
- Poses no significant risk of fleeing from the jurisdiction of the court or failing to appear in court when required.
This is the primary question whether Andrea Sneiderman will appear at trial; is she a flight risk? Andrea Sneiderman's attorneys are likely to argue that Sneiderman has been a long-time resident of Georgia, was employed here, has friends and family here, her assets have been frozen here, she does not have the means to flee, her kids live here and that she is not a flight risk.
The DA is likely to argue that Sneiderman put her house up for sale and no longer shows an intent to remain in Georgia. She has lived with her parents for the past 6 months, is currently unemployed (this is an assumption of mine), was arrested in Putnam county, is originally from Ohio, has the financial means to flee the jurisdiction and is otherwise a flight risk.
Given what we know, and without the benefit of additional evidence and witnesses that may be presented at the hearing, I think it is likely that the Court will find that Andrea Sneiderman is not a flight risk.
- Poses no significant threat or danger to any person, to the community, or to any property in the community.
I am aware of little evidence that Andrea Sneiderman is a threat to persons or property in the community. She does not have a criminal record, appears to not have been in any trouble before. Perhaps Sneiderman will call friends and family to testify on her behalf. It would be interesting to see who they call. If I were the defense, I would call Andy Lipman, because Rusty was one of Andy's best friends, and Andy's character and truthfulness is unassailable. As far as character witnesses go, Andy Lipman is the best I know in this case. You can see Andy's blog here: http://thedriveat35.blogspot.com/
If the DA is going to argue Sneiderman is a threat, he will concentrate this effort with regard to witnesses, as described in #4 below. Nevertheless, I think the likely outcome is that Sneiderman is not a significant threat.
- Poses no significant risk of committing any felony pending trial.
You may be thinking that elements 1 and 2 overlap with 3 – and you would be right, in this case. Thus, the same evidence used to argue Nos. 1 and 2, would likely be used to establish that Sneiderman is not a significant risk of committing a felony pending her trial.
- Poses no significant risk of intimidating witnesses or otherwise obstructing the administration of justice.
Here is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. This element will likely be the focus of the DA's argument that Andrea Sneiderman should not be released on bail. The local media has briefly mentioned the obvious argument here: During the Hemy Neuman trial, Andrea Sneiderman allegedly threatened Shayna Citron, a witness. I have heard other reports that Andrea Sneiderman visited the witness room during the HN trial and made witnesses uncomfortable. Citron is likely to testify as she testified, outside the presence of the jury during the HN trial, that she felt threatened by Andrea Sneiderman.
Furthermore, usually the spouse of a murder victim is permitted to remain in court during trial. However, Judge Adams barred Andrea Sneiderman from not just the Court room, but from the entire COURT HOUSE as a result of her outrageous behavior.
The DA is going to hammer Andrea Sneiderman with this evidence, and I would suspect the state has already interviewed the witnesses from the Hemy Neuman trial to determine if Andrea Sneiderman made any contact with them during or since the Hemy Neuman trial. If so, expect them to testify at the bond hearing.
Andrea Sneiderman's one contact with Citron may not be enough to convince the Judge by a preponderance of evidence that Sneiderman is a significant risk of intimidating witnesses or otherwise obstructing the admission of justice, but, Sneiderman is going to have to address this evidence to avoid staying in jail pending her trial.
As a reminder, the Judge need only answer one of these four questions in the affirmative in order to deny bail. If the Judge permits Andrea Sneiderman to be released after her bond hearing, here are the possible types of release she may receive:
- Release on Own Recognizance – Sneiderman will be released on her promise to return for hearings and trial without posting any property or assets. This is extremely unlikely.
- Unsecured Bond – Sneiderman will be released with the promise to pay a fine if she does not show up at trial. This is an unlikely outcome.
- Security Bond – Sneiderman will be released upon the posting of a bond in the amount set by the Court , commensurate with the ability to pay and to secure attendance at trial. The bond is put up by a surety (bail bondman), after Sneiderman pays 10-12% of bail amount. E.g. If bail is set at $2,000,000, then Sneiderman has to pay bondsman $200,000. If Sneiderman doesn't show up at trial, then she owes the entire bond amount to bondsman. Sureties determine the flight risk of Sneiderman and may require collateral (house, other property) as security. This is a likely outcome.
- Cash Bond – Sneiderman will be released upon the posting of a cash bond in the amount set by the Court. Sneiderman comes up with all the cash in this scenario instead of using a surety. If Sneiderman does not have all the cash perhaps her parents give it to her as a loan, gift, or advance on inheritance? This is also a likely outcome.
There has been question whether Andrea Sneiderman can afford bail given that a reported $2.3 million in assets has been frozen under the State's RICO statute. However, Andrea Sneiderman reportedly had an additional $600,000+- in cash and liquid assets, and her parents/family may also be able to help her financially. The Judge should consider Sneiderman's ability to pay when setting bail.
So, I hope you will tune in to the bond hearing, and tweet or email me your questions and comments. Remember, Rusty Sneiderman lost his life, and our justice system, with all its flaws, is still the best system on Earth at determining the truth.
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