The Anita Knutson murder made huge headlines recently when Nichole Rice was formally charged and arrested in the case. She made her initial appearance the afternoon after her arrest. After being informed of her rights, the possible penalties of being convicted of murder, and setting future court dates, the Court held a bond hearing to set bail.
Theoretically, every bond hearing occurs the same way. A prosecutor argues for a certain bond, the defense counters, and the judge makes a decision. Many defendants do not have attorneys for these hearings because they haven’t had a chance to hire a lawyer yet. Rice’s hearing was outside of the norm, because her attorney was present.
Recent Ward County bail amounts for murder charges have approached and exceeded $1 million dollars. But Rice’s judge ordered that she could bond out by hiring a bondsman to stand surety for a mere $250,000, or she could post $120,000 in cash. The Dakotan has reported that the judge noted Rice’s lack of criminal history and had no record of jumping bail.
Within days, social media was abuzz with assertions that Rice did in fact have a criminal history, for writing a bad check in 2012 in McHenry County, and for bail jumping by failing to appear at a later hearing to determine if she’d fully paid the fines and fees.
Most reactions centered around the combination of disbelief about the low bond in general and the factually inaccurate information upon which the bond was based. As a defense attorney myself, I received dozens of questions about how this could have happened. I’ve seen a range of emotions from anger and sadness to cynicism and sarcasm.
At a foundational level, a judge can only make decisions based on the information provided during the hearing. The real question is, “Who is responsible for providing the information?” Rice’s attorney certainly has no responsibility to throw his own client under the bus, or argue against their case. So, if a judge has no information about Rice’s criminal history or jumping bail, it is up to the prosecution to provide it. They didn’t.
It should have been available to them. Discovery disclosures nearly always provide a defendant’s criminal history, and it’s been my experience that prosecutors frequently cite a defendant’s criminal history in these initial bond hearings.
However, it may not really matter in the end. Rice took the option to post $120,000 in cash. It will be returned if she attends all of her court appearance. But with a surety bond, she would have paid a percentage of the bond (usually around 10%) to a bondsman, who would have kept that money as a fee to stand surety for the whole amount to the Court. Rice would likely have no chance to get that money back.
By posting the $120,000 cash, there’s actually more money at stake than if she’d gotten a surety bondsman on a million dollar bond. And in my experience, a defendant is much more likely to come to court when money is posted instead of a surety bond, because they personally have an interest in getting the money back after the case is over.
Rice’s next court appearance is August 4, 2022, for a preliminary hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to have a trial.
In addition to being a contributing writer, Andrew Schultz is The Dakotan’s legal counsel. He owns and operates Worthington & Schultz, P.C., a law firm in Minot. Visit www.worthingtonschultz.com.