Cross posted from Frederick Leatherman Law Blog
Seminole County Circuit Court Judge Kenneth Lester set bail today at $1 million in the George Zimmerman case.
This means that unless Zimmerman has $1 million to post with the Clerk of the Seminole County Circuit Court to secure his release, he will have to pay a bail bondsman $100,000 (the 10% non-refundable fee charged by the bail bondsman to post the company’s bond or promise to pay $1 million to the court if Zimmerman rabbits on the bond). The bail bondsman also will require Zimmerman to secure the bonding company with cash and/or property worth $1 million.
Real estate is typically used to secure a bond this high and, unless Mark O’Mara already has a person or persons lined up with equitable interests in their real estate greater than $1 million, it may take awhile to put a deal together that satisfies the bonding company. A current appraisal of the properties reliably indicating their fair market value, reports on the financial status of any loans secured by those properties and a title report are normally required.
As y’all know, I would have issued an order denying bail based on Zimmerman’s role in misrepresenting to the court that he was indigent while at the same time he conceived and directed the efforts of at least two family members (his wife and sister) to carry out a scheme to conceal his possession of $155,000 donated to him over the internet by transferring the money into their accounts before his bail hearing and transferring it back into his account after he bonded out.
Although Judge Lester characterized Zimmerman’s misconduct in substantially similar language, including a reference to Zimmerman’s failure to surrender the second passport such that it would not have been unreasonable for the court to have concluded that Zimmerman carried out this fraudulent scheme with the intent of fleeing the country, he decided to increase the bail substantially rather than deny bail because the State of Florida had not charged Zimmerman with any crime.
I interpret his decision as sending a message to the prosecution basically telling them that he does not believe he should deny bail to Zimmerman unless they charge Zimmerman with a crime. He even mentions a charge of criminal contempt as one possibility.
I have written about the possibility of charging Zimmerman with perjury based on his conduct directing his wife’s efforts to hide the money from the court. Her perjured denial under oath of any knowledge regarding how much money had been received from donors via the internet is but a natural and reasonably foreseeable consequence of Zimmerman’s scheme to conceal the money from the court. Nevertheless, convicting him of perjury on an accomplice theory may be difficult without his wife’s assistance and willingness to testify that he told her to lie to the court, if the judge or the lawyers asked her if she knew how much money had been donated.
If the prosecutors want George Zimmerman to be in jail for the duration of this case, they should not have any doubt as to what they must do to secure that outcome.
Meanwhile I do not believe Judge Lester’s order can reasonably be interpreted as an expression of doubt regarding the strength of the prosecution’s case against Zimmerman for killing Trayvon Martin. He explained that he initially found that the prosecution’s case was “strong” because the defendant did not testify at the first bail hearing and the defense did not present any evidence of self-defense. He also specifically characterized the evidence presented by the defense at the recently concluded bail hearing in support of Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense as having “little relevance” to the issue of bail.
Therefore, I caution against assuming that Judge Lester he has formed an opinion or reached any conclusions regarding the viability of Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense.