What is Bail?

Once you get arrested you are taken to jail where the booking process officially begins. This is the infamous part after an arrest in which you “enter the system.” Essentially, this means that an officer takes down all of your personal information including your date of birth and your sex; they collect information about all of your physical characteristics, such as piercings, tattoos, birth marks, height, weight, race, and so on, the officer inputs information about the alleged crime, and takes your mug shot as well as fingerprints. After this you enter the second phase in which you get arraigned. At this point you stand before the judge as he or she discusses the terms of your release—if any. You can be released on your own recognizance (ROR) and trusted to return for your future court date depending on the seriousness of the offense, the nature of your criminal record, the degree of threat that your release may pose on the public, and finally, how strong your ties to the community are, which minimize your risk to flee. You may also be released on conditional terms, which usually carry stipulations that may include doing community service and/or not getting in trouble again with the law for x-amount of time. If you abide by their conditions, your charges will most likely be dropped.

In many cases, however, the judge may not decide to let you leave so freely. If the judge feels as though the likelihood of you appearing in court is not as strong as he or she would like, they may seek a financial guarantee that will more likely secure the possibility of your return—commonly known as bail. Bail is defined as “a process by which you pay a set amount of money to obtain your release from police custody,” (FindLaw, 2015). If the alleged criminal shows up to their scheduled court hearing and follows through until the final disposition, their bail money will be returned. However, if one misses their court date, the bail money is essentially forfeited.

Although the process of bail proceedings vary between courts, the general process is one on which a hearing is held and the judge, the prosecutor, and the defense attorney discuss whether or not they want to grant bail and how high/low is appropriate to set it at. During this hearing the court considers a variety of different aspects including the status of your physical and mental health, your financial resources, your family/community ties, any knowledge of a drug or alcohol problem, any criminal history, and the length of which you have been residing within your current community. Many times if a judge is originally planning on setting a higher bail, he may change his mind once he sees an alleged criminal’s family sitting in the court’s pews, or other mitigating factors.

Once bail is set and you are released, this does not necessarily mean that you are free. In many circumstances the court can impose a number of restrictions and conditions on your release. They prevent you from any possible travels; they may seize your guns and/or revoke your gun license, enforce a curfew by which you must adhere to, require drug, alcohol, medical, or psychological treatment, and so on.

Hypothetically speaking bail is set at $100,000 but you nor your family have this readily available in liquid cash, there is another way to go about getting released. If you have property that equals or surpasses the value of bail, you can contract a commercial bail bond agent that will pay it for you. Typically, a bond agent seeks anywhere from a 10 to 20 percent commission of the total bail and in return promises to pay the court the remaining amount if you fail to make it to your scheduled court date.