Action News Jax Investigates: Judges may be breaking bond rules

An Action News Jax investigation uncovers local judges may not be following Florida statute.

The issue is the way they choose bond amounts for people wanting to get out of jail for things like traffic tickets, fines and even more serious charges.

Bonds are used to guarantee someone accused of a crime will show up for court. However, there are few  guidelines on how judges set bonds, and some judges may be bending Florida law.

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Jacksonville attorney Bill Sheppard said he's fed up with how Duval County handles bonds.

After an arrest, a judge sets a bond amount for a person accused of a crime.

The judge has absolute power deciding how much you have to pay to get out of jail. Sheppard isn't alone in his frustration.

Former State Attorney Harry Shorstein said when looking at Florida statute, some judges are bending the rules.

"It really suggests that bonds would rarely be imposed," Shorstein said.

Here's what he means. According to Florida's pretrial release rule, defendants have a right to pretrial release unless charged with a capital offense.

The rule says unless a motion for pretrial detention is filed, there is a presumption in favor of release on non-monetary conditions.

In simple terms, that means bonds aren't required in every case -- defendants can be released on their own recognizance.

Recently a judge released without bond three JSO officers accused of evidence-tampering, a third-degree felony.

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Compare that to what happened to Brittany Sims. Last year, she was charged with tampering with evidence, and had no prior criminal history. Her bond? $50,000.

The same story  for Bridgett Gillman -- a $50,000 bond for tampering with evidence, no prior criminal history.

Shorstein and Sheppard said there is no clear method for how bonds are set; you're literally at the mercy of the judge.

For people who can't afford to bond out,  the process becomes a punishment, especially for those being held for minor offense life traffic violations.

“Putting them through a system that almost guarantees that you will be worse off coming out of it than you were coming in,” Sheppard said.