Thursday, November 15, 2018
Correction of Prior Judge’s Legal Error In Setting Bail Was Itself Error—C.A.
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Fourth District Court of Appeal has issued a writ of habeas corpus sought by a man who was granted bail despite a law requiring no bail because a second judge’s order purporting to fix the mistake—absent changed circumstances—was not permitted by law.
The opinion, filed Tuesday, was written by Justice Richard T. Fields of Div. Two.
The petitioner, Benjamin S. Mejia, was charged with several acts of child abuse, along with special allegations of kidnapping. If convicted as charged, the man would be sentenced to life without parole.
Riverside Superior Court Judge L. Jackson Lucky IV set bail at $1,055,000, the amount requested by the prosecutor.
After Mejia posted bail, the prosecution asked Riverside Superior Court Judge Emma C. Smith to rescind Lucky’s order, which it acknowledged it had requested in error. Smith granted the request.
Under Penal Code §1275(c), a court must make a finding of unusual circumstances before reducing bail below the amount set forth in the county bail schedule for anyone charged with certain serious felonies, including those with which Mejia was charged. The Riverside Superior Court bail schedule lists “No Bail” for charges bearing a maximum sentence of life without parole or the death penalty.
The record on appeal was silent as to the substance of the bail hearing before Lucky.
“We…conclude that Judge Smith erred in resetting Mejia’s bail based upon a presumed mistake of law in the initial order by Judge Lucky. While Judge Lucky would have been able to reconsider the original bail amount and increase it based on legal error alone, Judge Smith could not. Contrary to Mejia’s assertion, that does not mean Judge Smith was without any authority to reconsider the amount of bail. She has the authority to increase the bail amount set by Judge Lucky based on changed circumstances. Whether circumstances have changed in the context of the relevant statutory factors since the initial bail order is appropriate for the court to consider in conducting another hearing pursuant to [Penal Code] section 1289. We remand for the trial court to make that determination.”
The case is In re Mejia, E071164.
Copyright 2018, Metropolitan News Company