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Miami-Dade Courts Chief Judge Statement on Pretrial Justice Improvement Project


Over 10 years ago, my predecessor and former Chief Judge Bertila Soto, joined together with State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, Public Defender Carlos Martinez, then-Commissioner Sally Heyman, and the Miami-Dade Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to review and improve our pretrial release and detention practices. 

Most recently, in 2020, our efforts were joined by the Dade Chiefs of Police, the Homeless Trust, and Thriving Mind South Florida as we embarked upon a grant from the Arnold Foundation and the Advancing Pretrial Policy & Research (APPR) Project.

Our goals have always been to:

1) improve public safety by preventing dangerous people from being released without a hearing simply because they can afford a bond, and

2) use evidence-based tools to assess low-risk individuals who cannot afford a bond. 

Our partners and I worked together to address the most significant shortcoming of the current system: persons charged with violent crimes can bond out of jail by paying the standard bond – without first seeing a judge.

For example, under the current system, individuals charged with the following crimes can be released without any appearance before a judge: 

1.      Aggravated Battery with a Firearm

2.      Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon

3.      Burglary to an Occupied Dwelling

4.      Attempted Second Degree Murder

5.      Driving Under the Influence (DUI) Manslaughter

Our APPR Project would have eliminated this severe shortcoming of the current system by making more than 700 crimes excluded from release on bond before first appearance.

Additionally, and perhaps even more importantly, the Project would have required, for the first time ever, a pre-release assessment of every person charged with a crime in Miami-Dade County - even those charged with misdemeanors - so that no person could be automatically released.

In January 2023, Governor Ron DeSantis announced proposed legislation for the 2023 General Legislative Session of the Florida Legislature to address the shortcomings of the current system. Following his announcement, we suspended the project, pending the outcome of the 2023 General Legislative Session. 

On May 1, 2023, Governor DeSantis signed into law CS/CS/House Bill 1627, regarding pretrial release and detention. This new law addresses many of the issues we were working to correct.

Among other provisions, the new law:  

  1. Prohibits a person from being released prior to his or her first appearance if he or she has been arrested for a particularly violent or heinous crime.
  1. Authorizes a court to revoke pretrial release and order pretrial detention if a defendant violates a condition of pretrial release.
  1. Adds manslaughter while driving and boating under the influence, trafficking fentanyl, extortion, and written threats to kill to the list of “dangerous crimes.”
  1. Prohibits a court from granting nonmonetary pretrial release at a first appearance hearing if a defendant is arrested for a dangerous crime and the court determines there is probable cause to believe the defendant committed the offense.
  1. Requires a state attorney, or a court on its own motion, to move for pretrial detention if a defendant is arrested for a dangerous crime that is a capital felony, a life felony, or a first-degree felony and the court determines there is probable cause to believe that the defendant committed the offense.
  1. Requires a court to order pretrial detention of a defendant who is arrested for a dangerous crime if the court finds a substantial probability that the defendant committed the offense and that no conditions of release or bail will reasonably protect the community from risk of physical harm.

We are grateful to the bill sponsors, the Florida Legislature and Governor DeSantis for their work to pass and approve this legislation, which addresses many of the shortcomings in our current system that inspired the work we and our justice partners have been collaborating on for many years.

Now that the Florida Legislature has addressed our concerns with this legislation, continued collaboration on the APPR Project is no longer necessary. I thank all our justice partners who worked on the Project, and I look forward to working with the Miami-Dade Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the State Attorney, and the Public Defender to effectuate the Legislature’s intent in CS/CS/House Bill 1627 and continue to work for the people of Miami-Dade County.

                                                                                                                     --The Honorable Nushin G. Sayfie, Chief Judge



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