A 29-page ruling denying the mandamus order sought to require Sheriff Johnny Moats to accept a transfer bond was filed today with the Polk County Superior Court Clerk’s office.
A ruling cited issues with Superior Court Chief Judge Meng Lim’s bond order requiring that Sheriff Moats use the property as surety to cover bond for accused murder suspect Jimmy Brian Blackmon, whose father posted a transfer bond from Carroll County to get him out. This came after a more than an hour-long hearing held on March 5 on the matter.
Additionally, Superior Court Judge Mark Murphy cited in his ruling that because of a pending request to change bond allowing Blackmon to seek to use a bondsman, Blackmon still has legal options on that still unheard request, and in the appeals process as well.
“I’m glad that the judge ruled in my favor,” Moats said. “I’m thankful that our community will remain safe so long as Mr. Blackmon remains behind bars under these murder charges.”
Blackmon’s request for the mandamus from his attorney also requested that Moats cover the cost to Christopher Twyman and an associate totaling more than $7,000 was also denied.
Understanding the ruling
There’s a lot of moving parts in this particular portion of the case, which explained in the previous coverage of the hearing on Friday demands a bit more detail.
As explained previously, there are several types of bond that can be issued to get someone out of jail. The most common is that provided by a bail bondsman, or a property bond. Either of which requires a bondsman either put up cash and offer “surety” that the person jailed will show back up for court hearings, or in the case of property bond the actual physical property.
In this particular case, a less common form of bond is a transfer bond. Essentially, this is a document by which a county not party to the case will take a property or cash bond on behalf of a person trying to get someone out of jail, then act as a middle man guaranteeing that the suspect in custody will show up for court when called upon. Transfer bonds don’t require the county making it to actually go collect the person who the bond is used for, only that should collection be required they stand ready to continue to act as a middle man.
The transfer bond in this case was put forth by Blackmon’s father Venson (though spelling is an issue here as well in the ruling) because it was utilizing his property in Carroll County. In a previous bond order, Judge Lim had essentially required that it be used as “surety.”
Surety is a legal term used in place of “guarantee.” For instance, when you go to jail and a bondsman bails you out, the bondsman is basically putting up the cash and taking responsibility for your presence in court. If you run, he loses money.
A judge can require that one form of bond or give a suspect the option of what they want to post, but they can’t decide that the guarantee (surety) is good enough for it to be powerful enough to make a person come stand before the bench and a case be heard.
In that particular part of the previous bond order, Judge Murphy essentially ordered that it wasn’t within Judge Lim’s power to require that the Horsely Creek Road property owned by Venson Blackmon be used to post bond. It would have violated the separation of powers over the bond that is set forth in Georgia law.
Essentially, a judge can set the amount of bond, but can’t require that a Sheriff accept what is being posted as surety that the defendant in the case will return to court.
“The law cited … creates a clear dividing line between the authority of the judge and the authority of the sheriff,” the ruling stated. “The judge holds the authority to determine whether to set bail, and if so the amount as well as the form of bail, such as cash, professional bondsman, or real property. At this point, the work of the judge is complete.”
“It then falls upon the sheriff to decide whether to approve the proposed surety for bond set by the judge,” the ruling continued. “The importance of the sheriff’s decision concerning the acceptance of the surety is obvious given that the surety takes on the responsibility for the consequences thereof.”
Though Twyman was correct in his assertion that Moats doesn’t have the right to determine whether Blackmon’s bond amount – or any bond being ordered in the case – was right or wrong and hold his client for it, the reason that Moats gave about requiring that he accept the transfer bond’s surety on the property gives way for him to deny Blackmon the right to get out.
Also, Judge Murphy takes issue with Twyman’s idea argued in court that Sheriff Moats must accept all bonds surety if a written policy or procedure does not exist, because then that would take away individual discretion in cases like this one in particular. More specifically, the ruling cited that if some form of policy doesn’t exist, it would require that “a new sheriff must possess the gift of omniscience so that he or she would have the ability to accurately predict all future events and thereby create a comprehensive set of rules and regulations governing the acceptance of sureties that would never be met with unforeseen circumstances.”
One more note on the surety issue: a sheriff can’t prohibit someone from a different county posting bond using property if that land resides within the county where a suspect is being held, but isn’t required to do so for someone posting bond from outside the county using property from outside of Polk.
Murphy’s ruling stated that “A sheriff arguably has no obligation to accept or consider a nonresident of the county when that non-resident offers as surety a real property bond for real property located outside the county in which it is offered as bond.”
As far as legal remedies go, the main force of the ruling denying the mandamus order be enacted and allow Blackmon out of jail on the transfer bond has to do with pending decisions before Judge Meng Lim.
In February before the mandamus order was filed, a motion to amend the bond order a further time was presented to the court by Twyman on behalf of his client. That motion has yet to be heard, or ruled upon, and thus gives Blackmon and his attorneys a path still available for his release from jail according to the mandamus ruling.
Further, the ruling stated that Moats had not overstepped his authority in the matter.
Next steps for Blackmon’s legal team
With the mandamus order denied, Blackmon’s legal team will have to seek a hearing before the court on a further bond order to clarify issues around the surety requirement and whether a bondsman can be employed to post bail.
Blackmon has already been indicted by a Grand Jury on the charges, and been through two different bond hearings to set the amount at $500,000, then reduce it to $100,000.
If Judge Lim will hear the matter further, it will come after he recused himself in the matter over mandamus order which he did in mid-February following the request before his court.
A trial date on for Blackmon to face a murder and several other felony charges – including influencing a witness – has not yet been set.