– Summary by Anna Lusk
On March 17th, the Supreme Court of Florida considered whether a defendant, at first appearance before a judge, with probable cause that the defendant committed a crime punishable by capital punishment or life imprisonment, may be detained for a reasonable time to conduct a full hearing without violating his due process rights. The Supreme Court agreed with the Third District Court that article I, section 14 of the Florida Constitution does not prohibit the trial court from exercising its discretion in detaining the defendant for a reasonable time to conduct a full bond hearing, and that to exercise this discretion, the court is not required by the Constitution to make a finding of “proof evident, presumption great.” Thourtman v. Junior, 275 So. 3d 726, 739 (Fla. 3d DCA 2019).
In making its decision, the Court first needed to lay out how prior courts have ruled in this issue. The Supreme Court highlights three cases. Both Gray v. State and Ysaza v. State determined that article I section 14 of the Constitution requires a finding at first appearance that the proof of guilt is evident, or the presumption is great to detain a defendant after first appearance to conduct a full bond hearing without setting reasonable conditions for release. The case Thourtman v. Junior departs from this ruling. Thourtman argues that article I section 14 of the Constitution refers to the release of a defendant pending trial, not to release pending a legally required bond hearing. In resolving the conflict of these cases, the court analyzed whether the first sentence of article I, section 14 of the Florida Constitution prohibits a trial court from detaining a defendant without setting reasonable conditions for pretrial release unless the court has made a preliminary finding that the proof of guilt is evident, or the presumption is great (as laid out in Gray and Ysaza). The Supreme Court concluded that article I, section 14 does not require these preliminary findings because there is nothing in the constitution or the caselaw to uphold this requirement for bond hearings.
Six Supreme Court Judges concurred, while only one Supreme Court Judge dissented. Notably, the dissenting judge agreed with the rulings in Gray and Ysaza. Judge Labarga argues that caselaw states that “[B]efore release on bail pending trial can ever be denied, the [S]tate must come forward with a showing that the proof of guilt is evident, or the presumption is great.” State v. Arthur, 390 So. 2d 717, 720 (Fla. 1980). He argues that this prior case conflicts completely with how the Supreme Court ruled on this case.