There has been nothing routine about the Trayvon Martin case from beginning up to the bond hearing. Day 54, known as the Zimmerman bond hearing, proved to be no different. Usually a bond hearing is a brief hearing to see if the defendant should receive a bond and under what conditions. A bail hearing ordinarily has none or very few witnesses. And almost never does the defendant testify under oath about the case, except in the Trayvon Martin case. George Zimmerman’s bail hearing was one more unusual abnormality in the Trayvon Martin case.
The purpose of bail being set is to ensure the defendant’s court’s appearances and to protect the community against danger by the defendant. The prosecutor asked for a $1 million bail. The court ultimately set $150,000 bail for George Zimmerman. Putting the $150,000 bail in perspective, there are cases where no death, assault or violence occurred and no prior criminal record and the defendant is held on $100,000 bail. And 2nd degree murder charges involving a gun, even with no prior criminal record, often come with a high bail or no bail. And high is not a $150,000 bail. Yet, Conrad Murray charged with and convicted of manslaughter in the death of Michael Jackson, was out on $75,000.00 pre-trial bail and allowed to freely travel throughout the country. So the amount of bail varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, case to case and judge to judge. In Seminole County, Florida, the prosecutor’s assessment of bail was probably closer to the mark than the $150,000 that was set.
The factors that are reviewed in the Florida law are the criminal charge, the strength of the state’s evidence, the danger to the community, the criminal defendant’s past criminal record, ties to the community and any previous flight to avoid prosecution. If released on bail, a defendant has pre-trial conditions to adhere and abide by, to remain free pending trial. They vary from pre-trial drug testing, checking in with the pre-trial probation officer, stay away from the victim, remain in state and other conditions related to a particular case. Requests to stay in an undisclosed of “safe” location are rarely heard. Zimmerman must wear an electronic tracking device, have no contact with the victim’s family, abide by a 7 pm to 6 am curfew, surrender his passport and check in with authorities every three days. He cannot be in possession of a firearm and cannot consume alcohol or illegal drugs.
The Zimmerman bail hearing tell us much about the case and the defense strategy so far. The testimony of the defendant was a crucial piece of the strategy. Even though there were inconsistencies in Zimmerman’s testimony from his audio 911 tape, the defense attorney, Mark O’Mara, is focused primarily on Florida’s Stand Your Ground defense. The defense strategy is to somehow prove that once Zimmerman believed his life was in danger, he had every right to stand his ground and shoot and kill Trayvon Martin, despite profiling and pursuing him.
This brings us to the point that this case is as much about guns and the right to bear arms as it is as about the unfortunate death of 17 year old Trayvon Martin, perhaps even more so.
Debbie Hines is a lawyer, former prosecutor and legal /political commentator appearing in national and local media including the Michael Eric Dyson Show, NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates, RT TV, CBC- Canadian TV, NPR, XM Sirius radio, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, Black Enterprise among others. She founded LegalSpeaks, a progressive blog on women and race in law and politics. She also writes for the Huffington Post.