A decision on whether the court will require Sheriff Johnny Moats to accept a transfer bond for Jimmy Brian Blackmon to get out of jail on murder charges will likely come after the weekend following a hearing held this afternoon.
Tallapoosa Circuit Superior Court Judge Mark Murphy heard arguments and testimony from Blackmon’s attorney Christopher Twyman and from Sheriff Moats, who represented himself in the hearing this afternoon.
Blackmon, who sat in court surrounded by law enforcement in the orange scrubs worn by inmates and in cuffs, remained in custody this afternoon despite a request from Twyman for a quick decision by Judge Murphy as the hearing was winding up this afternoon.
It was the latest attempt by Blackmon’s defense and his family to get him out of jail after he went on the run following the shooting death of his wife this past October of which he stands charged for murder and additional felonies, including influencing a witness.
Blackmon has a $100,000 bond approved by Superior Court Chief Judge Meng Lim, but within the orders itself likely gave rise for the mandamus order to be denied, as argued by Judge Murphy himself. The hearing was supposed to be held by Judge Lim, but he decided to recuse himself in the matter after he reported a conversation he had by phone with Sheriff Moats about the issue, which he felt would have caused a conflict in the matter and filed an order in past days stepping away from this civil part of the case.
Court proceedings began with arguments as to why Twyman was making the request itself, explaining that Blackmon’s father Vincent had gone through the necessary steps to secure a transfer bond from Carroll County to be used in Polk, with his property on Horsely Creek Road where his son was found eight days after he fled from the scene of the crime in Rockmart.
Initially the bond did not include warrant numbers and did not include a 10% bonding fee and a $200 processing fee, so was rejected. When Blackmon’s father had it corrected and returned – which was corroborated by testimony provided by Captain Shane Taylor of the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office and Blackmon’s father – that it was summarily denied.
Moats did apologize in court for Blackmon’s father having wasted his time coming to the Polk County Jail a second time to get his son out after he informed Carroll County officials to inform him not to come, and that he was going to deny the transfer bond.
He told the court that in his long experience with the Sheriff’s Office, they had never taken a transfer bond for murder, and it is going to stay that way if he has any say over the matter.
Moats also was called to the stand to testify after giving an opening statement to ensure under oath the policies that he was providing to Twyman by request at the hearing – during the hearing itself, and without Twyman having a previous chance to look at them.
He also declared in court that previously the Polk County Sheriff’s Office had no written policy about the use of transfer bonds on potentially capital offenses – known as the Seven Deadly Sins in the legal community – but would be developing one in writing for future use.
A question over written policy vs. discretion
This is where some explanation is required to understand both sides of the argument.
First, there are several different ways a person bonds out of jail. The most common is when a person gets arrested, the family calls a bail bondsman who puts up the entire amount of the bond with the jail, and charges an immediate fee and potentially a monthly fee to keep the bond available until a court date settles an issue. The bonding company has an agreement with the jail that their client won’t run, and if they do the bonding company is responsible for finding them and returning them to court if they want their money back.
Those facing more serious charges and can’t come up with cash immediately likely use what is called a property bond. It allows one to use their own property – their house or land – as collateral to ensure a person won’t run from their charges and face their day in court. If a person does run, the Sheriff’s Office can then seize the property and sell it, unless whoever signed the bond on behalf of the person getting out can pay off that cost.
A transfer bond, which is what’s in question here, is a bond that utilizes real property but gets a local jail in one county to guarantee the bond for another. Essentially, Blackmon’s father went to Carroll County and asked for a bond that can be used in Polk County, providing “assurity” that Blackmon’s father’s property stands for the bond, and they’ll guarantee it.
Transfer bonds aren’t common, enough so that per Sheriff Moats there’s no written policy on their use. Which leaves it up to his personal discretion on how to handle a situation like this.
However, and this is where things get technical and tricky in wording, state law gives judges the power to decide what bond will be set at, but sheriff’s the chance to say “we won’t accept this bond because it can’t be guaranteed” in so many words, and depending on an attorney’s interpretation of the code.
Additionally, the code section as Twyman pointed out during this afternoon’s hearing, includes a requirement that bonding policies of all form be written and published for the public to see. Which under one interpretation would make Moats’ use of discretion in his decision to deny the bond illegal.
Twyman’s arguments in court this afternoon were that his client had met all the conditions via his father in order to get out of jail, and that Moats doesn’t have a say over it. He went so far to say that Moats’ decision to deny the bond because, as Moats admitted he didn’t agree with the decision Judge Lim made in setting a bond in the first place, was unfair to Blackmon.
“The Sheriff can’t play Superior Court Judge,” Twyman said.
Twyman also argued that liberty was in jeopardy, bringing up founding father and President John Adams in the process, because Moats wasn’t following the court’s previous bond orders and letting his client out on the transfer bond.
He not only asked Judge Murphy to let his client free this afternoon, but also for Moats to incur the cost of having to spend time making, researching and arguing the motion with an additional attorney in his firm to help. That bill will total more than $7,000 if Judge Murphy decides to enforce an order of mandamus and include Twyman’s attorney fees.
Moats argues on his own behalf
Sheriff Moats made it clear he wasn’t an attorney, and was fine with whatever the court’s decision was during his opportunity to make opening and closing statements.
However, he made clear that he felt the transfer bond wasn’t acceptable due to the property being used to cover it, the fact it is valued well over the cost of the bond and Blackmon’s father is able to borrow against it to keep it, and most important in his view was that he was acting responsibly for the safety and welfare of the community by denying the bond and keeping Blackmon in jail.
Moat additionally stated during his court appearance that he disagreed with providing bond – and mentioned a case in recent memory in Haralson County where a man shot a woman and then immediately turned himself in but was denied any bail at all – in juxtaposition to what was happening in this particular case. Judge Lim, he said, oversaw that case.
“I think it is wrong, and I wish Judge Lim was here to explain his decision,” Moats said.
Judge Murphy questions statute and application
Before the hearing was over, Judge Murphy did ask some pointed questions about the application of the statute governing bond, and how judges and sheriff’s have separate powers over those decisions.
During an interchange with Twyman, Judge Murphy asked whether Judge Lim made a mistake in his third order by specifically requiring that Moats accept the transfer bond for the property in Carroll County, when another request from the defense was still unheard and having been filed on Feb. 12 remains undecided. That requested that Blackmon be allowed to request the use of a bonding company to cover him, or transfer where he would have to reside until trial at 118 Rice Road, where the crime was committed, to a third party and then make bond off the property.
Judge Murphy pointed out that if the third order stood, it would take away the discretion that Moats has on ensuring assurity of bonds, a power that Judges don’t have.
Twyman argued though that the third bond order needed to be understood in relation to the second, which lowered Blackmon’s bond to a level where he would be able to get out of jail – from an initial $500,000 to $100,000.
He also stated that in his view, Blackmon had exhausted all the remedies he had before the court to get to the mandamus order being argued over this afternoon.
Judge Murphy did not say how he planned to rule, but did point out that the statute was clear that if a non-resident wanted to post bond using real property in Polk County, that was something settled in clear legal language. A non-resident posting bond with property not in Polk? That hasn’t been settled based on the language of the statute being used by Twyman to get his client out of jail.
Moats argued the way he read the law, it wasn’t required for him to accept it.
Additionally, he argued to the court that Blackmon’s father “should have been arrested for harboring a fugitive” and remained adamant about Blackmon’s bond being “not a good idea.”
“I wanted to be heard, because I think it is a bad decision under the circumstances,” Moats said.