`Pretty good day' in court

Ruling bodes well for Ravens player, legal experts say

February 15, 2000|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

Even though the bail is high and the restrictions severe, the fact that Ray Lewis has been able to secure his freedom until trial bodes well for the football player, legal experts say.

"I'd say it was a pretty good day for Mr. Lewis," said Andrew Radding, an attorney with the Baltimore firm Adelberg, Rudow, Dorf, Hendler & Sameth.

Georgia Superior Court Judge Doris L. Downs, after an all-day hearing, ruled that she found insufficient evidence that Lewis would flee or injure others if released from custody. She ordered him freed if he posts $1 million bail but said he had to remain in Maryland, except when traveling to Georgia for matters involving the case.

Radding, who is a former federal criminal prosecutor, said it is significant that the judge found Lewis was not a threat to others despite being accused in a double homicide.

"If the judge is finding that he is not a flight risk and is not a risk to the community in a violent crime, I wonder how strong the case is against him," Radding said.

Bail hearings are different from criminal trials, and prevailing at the former does not guarantee victory in the latter. Another famous athlete charged with double murder, O. J. Simpson, was denied bail but was acquitted.

All defendants are presumed innocent until proved guilty in the American legal system, and, accordingly, the U.S. Constitution specifically prohibits the imposition of "excessive bail."

The idea, says University of Baltimore law professor Barbara Mello, is to keep defendants from being punished before conviction. Bail is supposed to be "an assurance, not a punishment."

But the potential for severe punishment in murder cases -- a conviction in this case could bring the death penalty -- makes bail unusual in such cases.

"In a murder case, it's very seldom granted. There isn't enough money in the world to make me go back and face a murder trial," said Mello, who teaches criminal procedure and constitutional law.

Simpson spent more than a year in jail, going back and forth to the courtroom in handcuffs. However, California law specifically prohibits bail in capital murder cases unless a defendant can prove the prosecution's case is weak.

Simpson, who demonstrated a flight risk with a nationally televised run from police on a freeway, sought bail and was denied.

Margaret A. Meade, a Baltimore defense attorney, said she was not surprised that Lewis was granted bail. He is a high-profile defendant and has a strong defense, making him less of a risk to flee, she said.

"The conditions of bail in these circumstances are not unreasonable," Meade said. "This is an individual who is high profile, has a viable defense and clearly has excellent representation."

Under the terms of the judge's order, Lewis will have to put up at least $200,000 in cash, and can use property or a surety bond to provide the other $800,000. If he fails to appear in court, he forfeits the $1 million, would be ordered jailed until trial and face additional charges.

Making bail should not be a problem for Lewis. He just completed the first season of a four-year, $26 million contract with the Ravens. He received a $7 million bonus upon signing the contract in late 1998.

The judge also ordered Lewis to be home by 9 p.m. every night, to avoid drugs and alcohol, to stay away from any witnesses or potential witnesses, and to surrender his passport to the court.

Meade said the 9 p.m. curfew and allowing Lewis to return to Maryland were unusual.

Meade said the curfew might be designed to discourage the Ra- vens star from going out in the evenings. She also said that most defense lawyers would have a hard time getting a Maryland judge to allow their clients to return to their home states on bond.

Meade said that the judge's decision to have Lewis surrender his passport made sense because he has the resources to "go someplace in South America."

"Do I want to live in a hut in Brazil or the Georgia State Penitentiary?" Meade asked.

Radding termed the restrictions "fairly standard."

"I've seen lesser crimes get greater restrictions," he said.

Sun staff writer Del Quentin Wilber and news researcher Andrea Wilson contributed to this article.

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