The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals released its first published decision addressing Aniah’s Law, which overhauled the long-standing right to bail in all noncapital cases.
Ex parte Green, CR-2023-0325, decided on September 22, 2023, interpreted Ala. Code § 15-13-3(b)(7), which governs the procedure the State must follow to reopen a bail determination under Aniah’s law. The Court held that the State did not follow the proper procedure for the court to set a no bond in Green’s case after a different court initially set a $50,000 bail for him on a pending murder charge. Since the State failed to follow the proper procedure to seek a no bond, the Court of Criminal Appeals remanded the case for the circuit court to reinstate the originally ordered bail amount.
Some background: Act No. 2021-267, Ala. Act. 2021, signed into law in 2021, provides that aside from capital cases, individuals facing numerous other charges such as murder, kidnapping, first degree rape, and other serious offenses can be held without bail. This Act went into effect once Alabama voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment in 2022 to Article I, § 16 of the Alabama Constitution of 1901.
Under Aniah’s law certain offense charges immediately result in a no bond. But that initially set no bond can only remain in place in certain cases if (1) the case has been indicted or a court has found probable cause, and (2) after a hearing, the State meets its burden to show that no conditions of release are sufficient under a differing burden of clear and convincing evidence. Ala. Code § 15-13-3(b)(1)a. If a bond is set at the initial Aniah’s hearing, the State may seek to reopen the court’s decision under § 15-13-3(b)(7):
a. A prosecuting attorney may file a motion for a pretrial detention hearing at any time.
b. A pretrial detention hearing may be reopened, before or after a determination by the court, at any time prior to trial if the court finds that information exists that was not known by the movant at the time of the pretrial detention hearing.
Ex parte Green rejected the State’s interpretation of the above subsections holding that they must both be met for the court to reopen a prior decision to grant bail in a case falling within Aniah’s law.
Mr. Green’s case: Mr. Green faced a murder charge and had an Aniah’s law hearing before a district court judge. This court heard the State’s evidence and set a bond at $50,000. Mr. Green later had a preliminary hearing before a different district court judge and the State’s evidence was essentially the same. This is to say, there was nothing new discovered in the investigation between the Aniah’s law hearing and the preliminary hearing. But at the end of the preliminary hearing, at the request of the State, and based on its argument that a no bond would be appropriate for community safety, the court no bonded Mr. Green. The circuit court later rejected a habeas petition that argued the State had failed to give notice of reopening the bond determination and that the judge at the preliminary hearing heard nothing new to reopen the matter. An original habeas to the Court or Criminal Appeals argued these same points and prevailed.
The holding: Based on basic principles of statutory interpretation, the State must meet both subsections a. and b. in Section 15-13-3(b)(7) to reopen an Aniah’s law bail determination. These subsections contain both the required notice component and the standard the State must meet:
“Reading the relevant subsections in pari materia, as we must, see Mitchell, supra, this Court concludes that § 15-13-3(b)(7)a. and § 15-13- 3(b)(7)b. must be satisfied to reopen a pretrial-detention hearing. Pursuant to § 15-13-3(b)(7)a. the State must file a motion to reopen the pretrial-detention hearing, and, pursuant to § 15-13-3(b)(7)b., the court must find that information exists that was not known by the movant at the time of the pretrial detention hearing.”
The decision did not address Mr. Green’s other argument that the State had failed to put on any new evidence to warrant the no bond at the conclusion of the preliminary hearing, but did signal that this standard is not that the State can just present more information that it knew from before – the standard plainly requires “that the trial court must find ‘that information exists that was not known by the movant at the time of the pretrial detention hearing.’ (Emphasis added.)”