Criminal law is not my area of expertise, but I was stunned to see bond set so low in the case. Justice's preliminary bond had been set at $100,000 before his appearance in court yesterday. Judge Hawkins said that Justice's bond had not actually been lowered to $25,000 according to the Indianapolis Star. "The $100,000 was really to get him here," Hawkins said. "Once Christopher Justice was extradited to Indianapolis, attorneys agreed on a $10,000 bond starting point. Hawkins raised that to $25,000 Thursday," the Star reported. Really?
So the crime Justice is charged with is attempted murder, which has traditionally been classified as a Class A felony and which will now be classified as a Level 1 felony under changes made in the Criminal Code by the legislature last year. According to Marion County's local criminal rules, bond for a Class A major felony is presumptively set at $50,000 surety bond. The bail schedule amount is supposed to double for each of several defined circumstances. One of those circumstances is that the crime involved a deadly weapon or serious bodily injury. Justice used two guns to riddle his ex-wife's body with 13 bullets. Yes, that circumstance is satisfied. The $25,000 amount set by Judge Hawkins is the presumptive bail amount in a case of domestic violence where the defendant has been charged with a Class C felony. According to the local rules, no bond amount can be set higher than $200,000. If Shirley had died and Christopher had faced murder charges, he would not have been eligible for bail. The state law governing bail procedures also sets forth a number of factors a court is to take into account in setting the amount of bail. Among those are the risk of flight, a factor clearly present in Justice's case.
The bail amount got me to thinking about that case up in Hamilton County where August Mendenhall was charged with attempted murder for supposedly trying to kill State Rep. Ed DeLaney, although as I've said before I don't believe that's what happened at all, even though a jury up there found him guilty of the crime. A magistrate in Hamilton County set bail for Mendenhall at $3 million because Mendenhall, a former native of Indiana, didn't have a current Indiana address and was deemed a flight risk. All of Mendenhall's immediate family members lived in Indiana where he had spent all but a short time of his life. Marion County's local rules also allow bail to be doubled if a defendant does not have an Indiana residence. Carmel police apprehended Mendenhall at the scene of the crime so he had no opportunity to flee the crime scene as was the case with Justice. There were no gunshots fired by Mendenhall. DeLaney only suffered minor injuries from a scuffle he had with Mendenhall after DeLaney claimed the gun jammed when Mendenhall attempted to fire it. Can anyone explain to me how it is possible for resulting bail amounts in criminal cases within the same state to vary so dramatically based on the same criminal charge? According to local trial rules, Judge Hawkins couldn't have set bail higher than $200,000, let alone the $3 million bail amount set in Mendenhall's case.
During a press conference with reporters yesterday, members of Shirley Justice's family and her attorneys discussed the case. Shirley's mother told reporters that Christopher had repeatedly threatened to kill her. She said that her daughter was convinced he would do it. Although she had obtained no contact orders against him in the past, none was active at the time he shot her. If Christopher is able to post bond, which is 10% of the $25,000 surety bond amount, or $2,500, he will be subject to house arrest and monitored by an ankle bracelet. Shirley's mother indicated that her daughter, who through no small miracle is lucky to be alive, was disheartened that her ex-husband might be able to post bond and be released from jail pending his trial. Her mother had previously assured her that he would remain locked up. She and her mother are worried that he may attempt to finish the job that he left unfinished. Making matters worse, Christopher's parents currently have temporary custody of the children, raising the possibility that he may have access to the children while she's laid up in a hospital bed struggling to recover from the near-fatal injuries her ex-husband inflicted upon her.
UPDATED: Judge Hawkins provided this additional explanation to WTHR-TV in response to the criticism of Shirley Justice's family for setting the bond so low:
In a statement, Judge Grant Hawkins explained the bond review. He described the case as a "very ugly shooting at a day care and a fellow on the run. You put a high bond on him to primarily get him back here."
Hawkins went on to say all but murder suspects have a right to a bond set by criteria in a matrix guideline.
The defendant's risk level gets first consideration. Judges examine employment, home stability, arrest records and convictions. Christopher Justice had one arrest but no convictions.
"There were instances where there [were] records of abuse that [were] documented. But it didn't go anywhere," confirmed Hart.
Next, the judge looked at the severity of the crime. Attempted murder is one of the most severe and bond can be set anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 in attempted murder cases . . .
Hawkins says shooting outside a day care scored Justice negative points. While the one-time fugitive got positive points for his surrender and waiver of extradition from Kentucky back to Indiana.
In all cases, Hawkins said, "We have to respect everybody. Sometimes the dynamics obscure other issues." He said he "tried to find the balance."So he scored him positively in his analysis for fleeing from justice and then later turning himself in and waiving extradition. Okay.