In the event of an alleged violation or crime, the accused person is arrested. The police officer at the scene then decides one of two things.
Either the defendant is given a citation along with a court date on which the defendant must appear (or pay a fine). The second possibility is the police taking the accused person to jail.
In the unfortunate event that the second option is chosen by the police officer, the accused has to spend time in jail until a court hearing of the alleged crime takes place.
The criminal justice system requires that the prosecution needs to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of committing the crime. It is also a fact that the criminal justice system moves slowly.
All of this can prove to be a disadvantage for the accused. Not only will he/she have to stay in jail for a crime which has not been proven yet, but he/she cannot go to work, earn income, be with family, or attend any personal events.
After all, the court date could be a few days away. So in the interim, there is no option but to remain in jail.
How the system of bail works?
To address this issue, there is a system of bail. Bail is an amount of money that the court sets which the accused person (or relative/friend) has to pay in full or in part (as a specified percentage) in order for the accused to be released from jail until court proceedings happen.
This bail money gets returned to the accused once the court case is concluded and if all the conditions that were set by the judge granting bail are satisfied by the accused. But if the accused flees, does not show up to court proceedings, or violates any bail conditions set by the judge, then the bail money stands forfeited and there is no refund.
There may be some other specific cases when the money does not get returned. The bail acts as a kind of collateral and incentivizes the accused to return to court for all proceedings rather than go missing. After all, there could be a few thousand (or a few hundred thousand) dollars at stake.
The process of paying the bail money is called posting bail. It can be done either by the accused or by a friend or relative of the accused. Bail can either be paid by cash, through a bail bond, or through a property bond.
The amount of bail gets set by the judge hearing the bail application case. Normally, there is a bail schedule that if referred to when setting the bail amount. It is a list of bail amounts for corresponding crimes.
Bail amounts can be as low as $10,000 or even as high as $350,000. In some cases, the judge might provide bail without requiring the accused to pay anything. This specific instance is known as “own recognizance” or OR paying the bail amount as listed in the bail schedule in full is the quickest way to get released. Sometimes, doing so can waive the additional step of having to see a judge for a bail hearing.
Conditions of the bail are decided by the judge or magistrate. Many factors influence whether a bail will be given or not, what the bail amount will be, and what other conditions will apply.
The accused person’s alleged crime is first examined. The seriousness of the crime, the nature of the circumstances, and the threat to the community is pondered upon. Next, the accused person’s past criminal record and background are closely examined.
If the accused person has a bad past record or if he/she could potentially face a life sentence if convicted, then the bail application may be turned down by the court.
Similarly, if the judge feels that the accused person poses a threat to the community, the bail can get rejected as well. Wealthy persons or foreign nationals can also be denied bail for what is known as flight risk.
It is essentially a risk that accused persons with such specific backgrounds may end up leaving the country without attending court proceedings. So, giving them a bail could be a risk.
In certain cases, an accused person may be released from custody in return for turning in his/her firearms or agreeing to take a drug test, or sometimes even checking in with a probation officer.
All these conditions for bail are decided by the judge after a careful evaluation of the case and the person involved.
The most direct method of posting bail is simply paying the full amount in cash or check. This money gets refunded to the accused once the court proceeding is concluded and all conditions of the bail have been satisfied.
So, regardless of whether the final verdict of the criminal case is guilty or innocent, the money gets refunded as long as the accused shows up to all court hearings and satisfies all conditions.
A useful option or type of bail is a bail bond. This option is especially attractive for someone who is low on cash and cannot afford to pay the entire amount of bail at one go.
A bail bond involves the hiring of a bail bondsman or a bail agent to whom the accused pays a percentage of the bail amount as fees. In return, the bail bondsman will take responsibility to pay the full bail amount to the court if the accused fails to show up in future court proceedings.
The fee paid to the bail bondsman can be around 10 or 20 percent of the bail amount and it is non-refundable. The bail bondsman is normally backed by an insurance company.
Often, a friend or relative of the accused person gets in touch with the bail agent. The bail agent can ask for some form of collateral from that friend or relative.
This fact makes it even more difficult for the accused to not show up in court once out on bail because at risk is the relationship with the friend/relative and the asset which the friend/relative has put up as collateral with the bail agent.
Another form of bail is a property bond. This is also a useful option if the accused person is short on cash.
A property bond is basically a lien on a property owned by the accused person that is submitted to the court in return for the release of the accused person from jail. If the accused fails to show up at any future court proceedings, then the court then has the power to foreclose the property and recover the amount of the bail money.
If the accused shows up to all the court proceedings and abides by all conditions set by the judge granting bail, then the lien ends once the court case concludes.