Reality Check: Law Abiding Citizen gets bond mostly right


In the clip above, from Law Abiding Citizen, Gerard Butler’s character, Clyde Shelton, is accused of killing two people and is attending his bail hearing. Then he starts to argue with the judge and a whole bunch of other stuff happens that probably wouldn’t happen in real life but are reason enough for you not to watch the clip from your work computer with the sound up.

But before then, his character and Jamie Foxx’s (Nick Rice) get into an argument over whether or not he should be released on bond.

Bail is set to release the defendant from custody prior to his trial, which could occur many months later. Bail allows the person to, in theory, be free to contribute to his defense’s efforts, continue to work until the trial, spend time with his family and prevents him from being held in custody longer without a conviction.

The money is exchanged for the defendant’s freedom as a way to ensure the defendant attends all following proceedings throughout his case. The money is returned to the defendant at the conclusion of the trial, through if the defendant is found guilty and ordered to pay a fine, the money can be used for that purpose.

Bail is not intended to be used as punishment or to raise funds for the government.

The idea for bail comes from the U.S. Constitution’s Eight Amendment, which states, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

It’s important to notice that the amendment does not guarantee one to the right of bail, just that they should not be subject to excessive bail. Since the text offers minimal guidance, the majority of laws dealing with bail have been created by statue. Mr. Shelton’s assortment that to deny him bond is “Constitutionally offensive” is incorrect.

Further, the precedent he cited is stated incorrectly and offers no protection to him. Day v. McDonough involved the one year statute of limitations for filing habeas corpus petitions that was established by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996(AEDPA). It’s a statue of limitations case, not a bail case. Furthermore, no one uses case docket numbers to cite precedent.

The correct way to site the case is 547 U.S. 198.

The district attorney, Nick Rice, argues that Mr. Shelton should be denied bail because he has the economic means to be a flight risk and the grievous nature of his offense. Mr. Shelton argues that he has no prior offenses, that he is not a flight risk, and that the state has little evidence against him for the crime.

When determine what to set the bail, the judge gets to use his or her discretion. The judge should consider the defendant’s criminal record, if the person is a risk to society and if the person has a history of showing up for proceedings in previous criminal matters. It doesn’t look good when someone has a history of warrants for failure to appear.

The judge also considers the defendant’s ties to the community. A person who has a solid job in the community with kids at the local school and attends a church or social group regularly is probably going to be determined to be connected to the community as opposed to a wanderer. The idea is someone connected to the community has a reason to stick around and will be less likely to leave.

It is possible that the defendant could be released on their own personal recognizance without paying bail. This is typically for minor, nonviolent offenses and the defendant isn’t a risk to anyone or a flight risk.

A person might also be released on citation, where they receive a citation saying they are required to appear in court as opposed to being booked at the police station. These are used for minor offenses.

Cash bonds are what they sound like: paying the amount you owe in cash. People can also use a property bond, where they use a lien on their property as security for their bail.

Most people use a bondsman or other third party to post bail. The defendant puts up a percentage of the bail, often 10 percent, and the bondman promises to pay the full value of the remaining balance if the defendant skips out on future appearances. The idea is that the defendant is likely to appear if someone they know will be out bond money because of them or in the case of a bondsman, someone will come looking for them if they do not show up. (I’ve been told that this process is nothing like Dog the Bounty Hunter by a real bondman, but I have no way of confirming that myself.)

In conclusion, Clyde Shelton killed the two man responsible for the death of his family. Without knowing he hadn’t intended to stop there, it might have been safe to assume that he wasn’t a risk to society to cause further harm, since he only targeted those who killed his family. He also had a clean record prior to his arrest. With his family dead, he probably doesn’t have that many ties to the community, through it can be hard to tell for sure from the clip above (and I can’t remember all the movie at the moment.)

It’s likely the judge would have granted him bail, but it would have probably been set fairly high due to the nature of his offenses. However, I have no idea why the prosecutors didn’t stop all they were doing and get his confession prior to the hearing if he was interested in giving them one or why he wasn’t wearing handcuffs in court.