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Judge offers advice on criminal courts

Hillsborough Judge Walter Heinrich gave members of the Carrollwood Community Bar Association insight on what to expect from the system.

By TIM GRANT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 12, 2002


CARROLLWOOD -- Lawyers in the Carrollwood area got a dose of humor and advice on how to navigate the criminal court system Thursday.

While suburban lawyers typically handle civil cases, Hillsborough Judge Walter Heinrich told them what to expect if a client calls them from jail late at night, charged with domestic violence or drunken driving.

"You figure you can just bond him out," Heinrich told members of the Carrollwood Community Bar Association. "But that's not true. It's impossible to get out without a first appearance."

Heinrich presides over the court where all criminal defendants appear when they are initially charged with any crime, from misdemeanors to capital murder. He decides if a defendant will be released on bond, and he rules on the amount.

Heinrich cautioned that it is generally impossible to free a client from jail before a first appearance hearing. "In the old days, there was a time when you could call a judge at home and they would let a client out after eight hours," he said. "But I will not do that unless you call the state attorney."

He described his daily caseload of 200 to 250 as "fast and furious. Some decisions are simple. Like capital murder. They stay in jail. It doesn't take a mental giant to figure those out."

With 300 to 500 inmates overpopulating the jail, Heinrich said he rarely hands out the maximum sentence for minor offenses like vagrancy. Many of those defendants are repeat offenders who get five to 10 days instead of 30.

Once, Heinrich said, he was riding his motorcycle with friends when they stopped at a gas station. He was wearing his helmet when a vagrant approached, begging for beer money and cursing the judge who recently sentenced him to 10 days in jail.

After he removed his helmet and gave the man a dollar bill, Heinrich said the man looked as though he had seen a ghost.

-- Tim Grant can be reached at 269-5311 or at grant@sptimes.com.

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