Bail is an amount of money that a criminal defendant may be ordered to pay before being released from custody pending trial. Its purpose is to ensure a defendant's return at subsequent trial proceedings. Bail is typically determined during a defendant's first appearance in court. A judge or other court officer sets the amount and conditions of bail. At a bail hearing, a judge has three options:
The background of bail proceedings, including the history of bail and when it's appropriate, is discussed below.
Bail Proceedings in Civil Cases
In common usage, bail typically refers to criminal proceedings. However, in rare instances bail may be imposed in civil cases. Civil bail is used to directly or indirectly secure payment of a debt or to secure a performance of a civil duty. For example, bail may be employed in a civil case to arrest someone to prevent them from fleeing to avoid litigation, or it may be used to prevent an unlawful concealment or disposal of assets.
The amount of bail set in a civil case will be based on the probable amount of damages the plaintiff could collect. Sometimes the deposit may be used to pay the judgment to a plaintiff.
Bail Law: Historical Background
Bail law came to the U.S. through English tradition and laws. Even before the adoption of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, a judiciary act in 1789 guaranteed a right to bail in all noncapital cases. For a person charged with a capital offense (where death is a possible punishment), bail was discretionary, depending upon the seriousness of the offense. The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides, "excessive bail shall not be required." The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Constitution permits holding a defendant without bail pending a criminal trial. No absolute right to bail exists.
When Bail Is Appropriate
Bail is not meant to act as pre-trial punishment or as a fine. Modern bail laws reflect an intentional emphasis on non-monetary methods to ensure a defendant's appearance at trial. This is meant to avoid discrimination against poor defendants.
Bail may or may not be required in misdemeanor cases, depending upon the circumstances and seriousness of the offense. More serious misdemeanor cases and felonies often require a bail determination. Bail may come into play at three stages of a criminal proceeding:
If bail is not required, a defendant may be released on his or her own recognizance. Releasing someone on personal recognizance means that the person has promised to show up for trial or other court proceedings, without posting a bond. Release on personal recognizance may be appropriate when a person has ties to the community and has lawful and steady employment. Family status is also taken into account.
Bail Proceedings: Failure to Abide
Before release, a defendant must sign a document promising to appear. Failure to abide by the terms of release on personal recognizance may result in revocation of the privilege, or further criminal charges, including immediate arrest. A defendant released on personal recognizance may be required to abide by certain rules. For example, the defendant may be forbidden from traveling outside of the court's jurisdiction, or may be forbidden from contacting the victim or the victim's family.
A court may also impose an unsecured appearance bond on a criminal defendant. A bond amount is set, but the defendant is not required to post any money. If the defendant fails to appear at subsequent proceedings, or violates any terms of the bond, he or she will be required to pay the full amount of the bond.
Questions About Bail Proceedings? Eliminate the Guesswork and Hire a Lawyer
If you're awaiting your bail hearing or just have questions about how bail is calculated, you can get those inquiries answered by a criminal defense expert in your area. Speak with an attorney today to learn more about when bail is required, reasons why bail may be denied in some cases, and more. Protect your interests by speaking with an experienced, local defense attorney today.