Typically, your first court appearance after being arrested will be a bail hearing. This is when the court decides whether to release you from jail on your own recognizance or to charge a deposit that will help guarantee you'll show up for your court dates. There are a number of factors that influence the amount of your bail order. Here's what you need to know about how bail is set, so you can develop a strategy that will minimize the amount of money you have to pay for your freedom.
The Eighth Amendment
The United States Constitution provides important protections for defendants when it comes to bail. Specifically, the Eighth Amendment states:
- That bail cannot be set at an excessive amount
- Bail cannot be used as a punitive measure against the defendant
This means judges must take defendants' financial situations into consideration when ordering bail to ensure the amount doesn't exceed the person's available resources. Additionally, the court cannot set bail at an exorbitant sum as a way to preemptively punish the defendant by either forcing them to use all of their money to pay the fee or dooming them to spend time in jail because they are unable to pull the cash together to free themselves.
Unfortunately, theory and practice are two different things, and courts have been known to purposefully set bail at an insurmountable amount to ensure the defendant stays locked up. In this case, one recourse is to petition the court to lower your bail. You'll have to be sure and request a different judge as the one who initially set the bail may not be amenable to adjusting his or her ruling.
Another option is to contact a bail bondsman, from a company like Absolute Bail Bonds. These companies will pay the bail for a small fee (generally 10 percent of the bail order). Although the money you pay is non-refundable, it's a good way to get out of jail without having to come up with the full amount of the bail order.
The Nature of the Crime and Your Criminal Past
The crime itself and your criminal history will also play a part in how much bail you'll have to pay. Minor infractions such as public intoxication usually net small bail orders, if any. Conversely, expect a judge to set bail high for major felonies such as murder or large-scale fraud.
For a variety of reasons, though, police may engage in practices that can result in higher bail being set for defendants. One common tactic is to arrest people on the highest charge possible based on the circumstances. For example, if police find a small amount of drugs on the person when they arrested him or her, they may charge the individual with intent to sell, which is a felony. Although it's highly unlikely the person will actually be convicted of that charge, bail will be set based on it.
Repeat offenders are also typically required to pay higher amounts of bail, especially if the crimes all occur within a relatively short span of time. A person who is in court for a third DUI offense in the same year will likely pay more than someone who is being charged with a third DUI in ten years.
Community Status and Personal Resources
The purpose of bail is to ensure you will show up for all of your court appointments. The court may set a higher bail if it appears you may be a flight risk. A judge will consider your personal status, ties to the community and access to resources that may help you escape prosecution when determining your bail. For instance, if you have a passport and family in another country, you may be ordered to pay a higher amount of bail to prevent you from attempting to leave the United States.
Having a stable job, a good reputation, dependents and ties to the community are all things that may convince a judge that you'll appear in court as directed and, therefore, may result in a lower amount of bail.
Needless to say, your freedom will hinge on your bail order, so it's a good idea to hire an attorney before your bail hearing. Once the order has been set, connect with a reputable bail bondsman who can help secure your freedom for only a fraction of the bail amount that's owed. This will allow you to get back to your life as quickly as possible.