Appeal bonds can be a slap to the face of victims and of justice
Last week a jury reached a guilty verdict in the case of State v. Allan Curtis Jones. Jones was convicted of murder in the second degree and he was sentenced to 24 years (18 years for murder and six years for fire arm enhancement) in Arkansas Department of Corrections. Jones murdered Mike Wallace approximately 13 months ago and Wallace’s family finally got to see justice served. Except Jones isn’t in the Arkansas Department of Correction serving the time sentenced to him. Jones is walking free and will be for approximately a year because Judge Cindy Thyer set a $50,000 appeal bond for Jones after the jury’s sentencing and appeals are very lengthy processes.
I’m not going to go over too many details about the trial here. I covered it beginning to end last week and if you want to know about it you can find those stories in last week’s editions. What I am going to talk about it is how this appeal bond is the opposite of justice served. Jones was CONVICTED and SENTENCED after a long four day trial where a jury heard the “facts” from both sides and they determined him GUILTY.
Now I understand to some extent why we have appeals, but appeal bonds do not make sense. Obviously a defendant who pleads not guilty isn’t going to be satisfied with a guilty verdict and will want an appeal, but that shouldn’t grant them freedom if they can pay for it. The appeal process is a lengthy one and attorneys have told me that it can take at least a year and sometimes longer than that.
According to courts.arkansas.gov, “When the defendant has been found guilty, pleaded guilty, or pleaded nolo contendere to murder in the first degree, rape, aggravated robbery, or causing a catastrophe, or kidnapping or arson when classified as a Class Y felony, and he has been sentenced to death or imprisonment, the trial court shall not release him on bail or otherwise, pending appeal or for any reason.”
So, that means that not everyone who commits a crime can get out on appeal bond any of the crimes listed above eliminate a defendant for consideration of an appeal bond. Jones was convicted with murder in the second degree, which conveniently exempts him from this rule.
Imagine if this were the other way around and he had been found innocent but the state wanted to seek an appeal and if they could pay a fee Jones could stay in prison for as long as the appeal process took. That would be both crazy and illegal because prosecutors cannot seek appeal. There are laws against double jeopardy. "No person shall ... be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb."
So if the prosecutors have to know when they are beaten, why doesn’t the defense? Letting this man walk free is a slap in the face to Wallace’s friends and family and it is a slap in the face to our justice system.
I understand that it would be terrible to sit in prison for a year or better for a crime you didn’t commit and an appeal bond could keep that from happening, but here’s the thing, for an appeal to exist you have to have a conviction first and if you have a conviction that means that a group of 12 people agreed that enough evidence existed to find you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Now I’m not saying that jury is infallible, but if 12 random people can come to a unanimous agreement on an issue this serious, maybe that decision shouldn’t be allowed to be temporarily overturned by a single person. In my opinion that is what an appeal bond is; it is a judge that is overturning a decision made by a jury. The jury did not say “we the jury find Allan Curtis Jones guilty and sentence him to 24 years in prison unless his defense team disagrees with our verdict and if they do he can go free for a year while they work through the appeal process.” So I have to ask why did Judge Thyer make this decision and the only answer that I can come up with is that she disagreed with the jury’s verdict.
This man fired a gun into another man until it was empty, a jury found him guilty and now he is out on appeal. How is this process legal? Just because a defendant believes they were wrongfully convicted doesn’t mean they should get a “get outta jail free” card. I guarantee that given the choice between being in prison and not being in prison everyone would choose the latter. Nobody wants to be in prison, but some people deserve to be and Allan Curtis Jones deserves it.