After a person is arrested for a crime, they may be required to post bail to get out of jail while they are awaiting further court proceedings. A court may use a standardized bail schedule to determine what amount is needed.
A judge may also hold a bail hearing and may allow the suspect to be released in exchange for bail money. Remember that bail is not a guarantee and a judge can deny your request and mandate you stay in jail while you await a trial date.
Whether bail is set depends on the severity of the crime that you committed and the judge you are appearing before. For example, if you are charged with murder there is a higher chance that a judge will deny your bail. Some states may even automatically make you ineligible to receive bail if you commit a serious felony.
Additionally, the judge may only require you to submit a certain percentage of the bail money to be released. A judge also has the power to put you on house arrest or require you to surrender your passport if you are a flight risk or have committed a serious crime.
What Factors Do Courts Consider When Setting Bail?
The judge only sets bail with a mutual understanding that the suspect will return to court on the date of the trial. If you do not show up for a court date, then the court can keep your bail money. Nevertheless, a judge cannot freely set bail at any amount. Certain factors will guide the judge's decision of whether to award bail and what is an appropriate amount.
A judge will generally take the following factors into account when dealing with a bail request:
- Past criminal record;
- Severity of the crime;
- Employment status;
- Family status;
- Community ties;
- Whether you have a has a warrant out for your arrest; and
- Whether you are a flight risk.
If you have a history of jumping bail or committing other crimes, it is safe to say that there is a lesser chance that you will receive bail. If you are wealthy and can afford the means to flee the country, you may also be viewed as being a higher flight risk.
Are there Limits to How Bail Can Be Set?
The Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits bail from being excessive. This means that judges cannot use as a means of punishment or to raise extra money for the courts. Bail can only be used as a reasonable means to ensure that a person will return to court for their hearings and trial. Bail should also be proportionate to the severity of the crime.
Bail will usually be set higher if you are a flight risk or the crime is severe. If you get a high bail and cannot afford it, you will have to remain in jail. You could also explore the option of getting a bail bondsman to help pay your bail money.
In addition, a judge cannot deny bail for the sole purpose of alleging police officers to gather more evidence against a person for the alleged crime. The burden is on the prosecution to present enough evidence for the charges to stick and to ultimately prove your guilt.
Lastly, the reach of the Eighth Amendment is usually applied more strictly for foreign nationals because of terrorism scares. In these situations, bail may be much higher or more difficult to obtain.
What is Bail Jumping?
After bail is set, one situation that may occur is referred to as bail jumping. This occurs when a person is allowed bail, posts bail and then skips town or fails to appear in court after they are released. It is illegal to skip bail and you may be charged with a separate crime.
If you jump bail, the money you paid can be forfeited by the court. The court will also likely issue a warrant for your arrest. Because of the negative consequences you may face for jumping bail, you should ensure that you appear for all court dates after you are released on bail. Failing to do so can negatively impact your case in more ways than one.
Should I Consult an Attorney for Issues with Bail?
If you have been arrested and believe you are entitled to bail, were denied bail unfairly or have been awarded bail that is too high, you should consult a local bail bond attorney. A bail bond attorney can advocate to the judge on your behalf to receive a fair bail amount.
If your case proceeds, you should also contact a local criminal attorney to help you with your case. A criminal attorney can appear in court, fight to get your charges dropped or reduced, try to negotiate a plea deal and argue any defenses to your claim that may be appropriate.