Quentin Pierce, age 24, surrendered himself peacefully to police in Fort Lauderdale, Florida yesterday. Pierce is facing murder charges for the alleged shooting death of Edison Austin on September 15.
Given the nature of the charges, Pierce is not entitled to an automatic bond. Instead, he must make a motion for an Arthur Hearing to request bond from his division trial judge.
Under normal circumstances, a criminal defendant is automatically entitled to bond unless he or she is charged with a life felony, such as murder. A life felony is a crime which can be punished by life in prison or in the case of murder, with the death penalty.
When a trial judge presides over an Arthur Hearing, he or she is bound to uphold the highest standard of evidence in our legal system. This standard is called “proof evident, presumption great.” In a nutshell, this means that the prosecutor convince the judge that the accused person likely committed the crime. Technically, this standard is supposed to be higher than reasonable doubt. However, in practice, most trial judges find that the prosecution meets its burden so long as there is enough basic evidence to support the fundamental allegations contained in the charged.
It will be up to Pierce’s defense attorney to challenge the prosecution’s evidence and determine if there are any conflicts in the evidence, any lack of evidence, or the existence of any facts that prove Pierce is innocent, such as proof that he acted in self-defense or that another person was the shooter. While most common cases get bond at magistrate court, it is important to emphasize that this hearing is one that must be specially set before the division judge.
Once the judge rules that the prosecution has met its burden, the judge then has the right to either grant or deny bond. Obviously if bond is denied, the defendant must remain in custody until his or her case is resolved.
When making a decision on bond, a judge will consider the specific allegations of this specific case, whether or not the defendant has meaningful ties to the community (thus rendering him or her less of a flight risk), and whether or not the defendant is a danger to the community or any specific person, such as a named victim.
After considering all these factors, including any prior criminal history or history for failing to appear in court, the trial judge will render a decision. Typically, bond is granted although it can be very high. For that reason, it is important for the defendant’s attorney to advise the trial judge of the defendant’s true financial status.
According to news reports, Pierce got into a fight with Austin over video games and alcohol. The details of the fight are unclear and it is unknown whether or not eye witness testimony can corroborate that Pierce acted unlawfully when he allegedly shot Austin.
Even though the reason for the fight may seem silly, Austin may have been the real aggressor. If Austin threatened Pierce with serious bodily injury or even death, such as by waving a knife, a baseball bat, or a gun at Pierce would have acted lawfully by defending himself with lethal force.
This case will require extensive investigation by Pierce’s criminal defense lawyer. The specific observations by any eye witnesses will be key. Hopefully Pierce had enough intelligence to keep his mouth shut when the police interrogated him. If not, he may have made statements that could be misinterpreted. For the truly naive, police interrogators are experts at obtaining such statements.
Also, was a murder weapon recovered? Does it have Pierce’s fingerprints on it? Does this case present any DNA evidence?
So much more needs to be known about this case before a defense can be put together. Ultimately however, cases like these tend to come down to issues of self-defense. Just because police detectives think the person that died was the victim and not the true aggressor does not mean they are correct.
Hopefully justice will prevail in this case, whatever the circumstances may be.