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Broward County: Change of Charge

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In Broward County, when you are arrested for a felony and any felony charge is going to be changed at arraignment, there will be a mandatory bond status in which you, the accused, must appear with your attorney, as well as an affidavit from your bondsman agreeing to remain liable on the bond.

That's because when you post your bond, you and the bondsman (the surety agent) are entering into a contract in which the bondsman agrees to put up the bond money, understanding that if you fail to appear the money could be forfeited.  At the same time, you are paying the bondsman a premium (10% of the bond amount) as a fee to compensate them for their risk, as well as assure them that you will appear in court as directed.

When the charge changes, technically that constitutes a change in circumstances in which the bondsman is no longer liable on the original bond unless they agree to remain liable.

It would be like entering into an agreement with a contractor to build you a pool, and then later decide to ask the contractor to add a deck but without increasing the price of the job.  A change in charge may mean added exposure for you (for instance, a third-degree felony, which carries five years maximum, being elevated to a second-degree felony, which carries fifteen years).  The bondsman is under no obligation to agree to remain on the bond under the original terms.  In my experience, many bondsman will sign affidavits, but some will - and certainly have the right - to charge the accused a higher premium.

This does not happen the same way in other counties.  An elevated charge (increase in charge) will require an affidavit from a bondsman in Miami-Dade County, but the court will not require the accused to personally appear.  The attorney can appear on behalf of the accused and simply present the affidavit to the court.  Also, in Miami-Dade County, a lateral change of charge (one third-degree felony being changed to a different third-degree felony) or a reduction (a second-degree felony to a third-degree felony) will not require a surety's affidavit.

Broward County will.

While the law in the State of Florida is uniform and applies to all 67 counties, the practices and procedures in each county are very different. 

It is critical that when retaining a criminal defense attorney you make certain that the attorney has practiced in that particular county and understands the differences between that county and perhaps the one in which they are located.

It is perfectly fine for an attorney to practice in multiple counties, but just make sure the attorney understands that what works in Miami-Dade may not fly in Broward.  What is acceptable practice in Palm Beach may be frowned upon in Martin.  

Be advised, if you are charged with a felony in Broward County, it is critical that you understand that your physical appearance may be required at arraignment, even if it may be waived in other counties.

Eric Matheny is a criminal defense attorney serving Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach.