What is bail, and how does it work?
Usually, when a person is arrested, they have the option of remaining in police custody until their court hearing or ask to be released on bail with a promise to appear in court when ordered to.
Bail, therefore, is the amount of money a defendant pays to the court to act as a guarantee that if he is released, he will not run away, and appear for the court proceedings as required
Bail is often set depending on the severity of the crime and the court’s uncertainty as to whether the defendant will appear in court or not.
How does the bail process work?
Anytime a person is arrested, they are first taken to the police for booking.
The booking process involves recording the accused personal information like his/her name, birthday, appearance, address, and the alleged crime.
The police officer will then conduct a criminal background check, checks if the suspect is intoxicated, take their fingerprints and seize all personal property that’s kept safely and returned when the accused person is released.
Usually, the suspect is allowed to make one phone call before being put in jail with the other recently booked suspects.
For serious crimes, the suspect waits for 48 hours for bail hearing, but for minor offenses, the suspect may post bail immediately to guarantee his/her release.
During the bail hearing, the judge decides if an accused person is eligible for bail and at what amount.
Factors that determine bail amounts
To determine if a suspect is eligible for bail and at what cost, the judge will put the following elements into consideration:
If the suspect has past criminal records, the bail set may be higher than that of a first time offender.
Similarly, if the suspect has a warrant of arrest from another jurisdiction, the judge may deny bail altogether to keep the suspect in custody.
The severity of the alleged crime
Usually, a police officer can only arrest and detain you for severe crimes that facts can prove.
Serious crimes attract higher bails, and if your alleged crime is so severe, chances are you’ll have to part with a lot of cash to buy your temporal freedom.
Different states have different bail schedules. In Los Angeles for example, a suspect would pay $25,000 for perjury or a sexual assault, $1,000,000 for kidnapping with intent to rape, and $100,000 for manslaughter.
Usually, a judge will put these schedules into consideration when determining bail, but will also consider other factors.
If the suspect is hoping to pay less than the bail schedule, he/she will have to appear before a judge and plead his case.
If the court suspects that the defendant might flee from their jurisdiction before the case is concluded, or they were arrested while on the run, the bail amount will be higher or they may even be denied bail.
A danger to the community
If the accused person might pose harm to the community they live in, the bail set will be higher. The judge has a right to deny him/her bail altogether.
Ties to the community
The court will be more lenient with people who have strong relationships with the community.
If the accused person has lots of investments in the community they live in, chances are they are less risky. They are highly unlikely to flee, commit other crimes or endanger the lives of others.
Such individuals will get lower bail amounts.
Past appearances in court
If the offender has a history of not appearing for court proceedings for previous crimes, chances are high that the bail set will be higher.
The different types of bails
Below are the most common types of bails:
If the accused pays the set bail in cash, it’s referred to as a cash bail.
The suspect has an option of paying the bail amount in checks or credit cards.
If the accused person cannot afford to pay cash bail, he/she through his friends, relatives or lawyer will contact a bail bondsman who’ll post bail on their behalf.
The bails bondsman will post bail with the hope that the accused will honor their promise to appear in court.
Usually, the bail agent through a surety company pledges to pay the full bail amount if the suspect fails to appear in court. He, in exchange, charges the suspect a premium of 10% of the bail amount, and take up some collateral in the form of a house, car, title deed, jewelry or even electronics. The surety company also allows a friend or relative to cosign on behalf of the defendant.
If the accused honors his promise and appears in court as required, the bail amount that was paid will be returned to the bails bondsman irrespective of the outcome. The bail agent, however, keeps the 10% premium as his profit.
However, if the suspect skips or jumps bail, the bail’s agent will pay the bail amounts in full and use the collateral to cover his losses. They may even force the friend/relative who cosigned the bail to pay up.
The suspect also has an option of giving up his property as collateral to act as a bond.
When this happens, the court will get a lien on the property. If the defendant fails to appear for court proceedings, chances are he/she will lose the property to foreclosure.
To recover the forfeited bail, the court is usually forced to foreclose properties that are set as bond.
Sometimes, the judge releases a suspect on his recognizance.
In this case, the accused will not have to pay bail but is released based on a promise that he’ll appear in court.
To be released on personal recognizance, the judge will have to determine that the accused person is not a danger to the community, is not a flight risk, and his crime is minor and non-violent.
While it’s every individual’s right to be granted bail, it’s still the discretion of the judge to grant or deny a suspect bail.
Usually, the judge has to put a lot of factors into consideration in determining if a suspect is eligible for bail or not.
Different criminal cases attract different bail amounts, but there are also cases that the judge will deny a suspect bail.
If you still wondering what is a bail, refer to the above article for how the bail process works, different types of bails, and the determinants for bail.