Court of Public Opinion Open: NFL Star Aaron Hernandez Charged with Murder

Did anyone watch the arraignment of (former) New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez? Riveting stuff. Every major news outlet had a direct line into the courtroom’s webcam, which fixated firmly on the star athlete, who appeared in handcuffs and the same white t-shirt he wore when authorities pulled him from his home in the Boston suburbs. What took place during the arraignment is a textbook example of what many defendants experience, often for the first time, when going through the criminal justice system. Often, the seriousness of the charges defendants face is just as important as the presence (or absence) of a criminal record.

Securing Bail for Clients is Vital

Obtaining bail for a defendant is integral to keep their spirits up and get them back with their family during what will be one of the most stressful times in their lives. As anyone who saw the Hernandez arraignment noticed, the judge presiding in hearing denied him bail sighting the gravity of the charges against him – murder in the first degree. His attorney lobbied passionately nonetheless for his release, citing his client’s willingness to accept and comply with whatever restrictions the court required of him.

The length of trials involving defendants who remain incarcerated for court proceedings are also shorter because the right to a speedy trial takes more a precedence. The longer a defendant remains behind bars, the more urgent the need for a resolution to the charges against them becomes. This can manifest in less time to prepare for trial, in part because the person who stands accused wants to get things underway. Naturally, the prosecution wants a defendant in prison as both a means to create the illusion of public safety and to strike a blow to the psyche of the defense.

Labeling the Accused as a Flight Risk?

In cases where defendants have a degree of notoriety, the argument that they present a flight risk is a thin one at best. This is the age of instant information and cell phone cameras. This isn’t Roman Polansky fleeing the country to avoid prosecution, but a famous athlete with instant name and face recognition. GPS monitoring would’ve easily satisfied any concerns by the state regarding Hernandez’s risk of absconding, though again the seriousness of the charges voided any arguments to the contrary.

Facing Charges of Violent Crime

In most states, the accused retain the presumption that they will appear as directed for trial if released on their recognizance – given bail. However, the charge of a violent criminal offense, particularly premeditated murder, trumps this presumption and leaves it up to the individual judge to decide. In Hernandez’s case, the judge felt in the public interest to deny him bail. He could’ve decided the other way, though I don’t believe it was for lack of effective argument by the defendant’s defense team.

In Utah, the right to bail is a constitutionally protected right under Article I section 8 of the Utah Constitution and a statutory right under Utah Code Annotated section 77-20-1.  Exceptions to this right to be admitted to bail are (1) when the defendant is charged with a capital offense (i.e., a death penalty case), (2) when the person is charged with a felony committed while the defendant was on probation or parole for a previous felony, (3) when the person is charged with a felony supported by substantial evidence and there is clear and convincing evidence that the person would constitute a substantial danger to any other person or is likely to flee the jurisdiction, and (4) where the person is charged with a felony supported by substantial evidence to support the charge and clear and convincing evidence exists that the person violated a material term of their release while previously out on bail.

The right to bail in Utah is more substantial in Utah than in other states because the drafters of the Utah constitution had lived through a period where many of their church leaders had been rounded up and held without bail by a judge who held a particular animosity toward those of the LDS religion.  Of those leaders incarcerated without bail was Brigham Young.  As you might suspect, having their church leader and prophet behind bars without the possibility of bailing him out left much of the Utah populations with a healthy suspicion of government’s power to charge, incarcerate and convict.  That is, it was well understood in Utah that the power to deny bail was an awesome one that could be abused.

If you, or someone you love, are facing serious criminal charges, you need the services of an experienced Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer to get those charges dismissed or win your acquittal. Contact our law offices today for an immediate consultation with our legal professionals – (801)-895-3143. We also make emergency jailhouse visits around the clock.