When someone is arrested for a crime, they must be charged and arraigned in a timely manner. Often, a judge will set bail at arraignment, which is a hearing where the person charged enters a plea. But depending on location, bail may be set before arraignment.
Bail is meant to ensure that the person charged actually appears at trial, since bail is returned only if the person charged shows up for their court dates.
Here’s what else to know about bail, including how the amount is determined in the first place.
The Purpose of Bail
After being arrested and charged, many defendants are given two options: stay in jail, or post bail and go home, making sure to attend all relevant upcoming court dates. For those who are able and willing to choose the latter option, bail serves as a guarantee of sorts that they’ll actually show up for court appearances.
A defendant who leaves the jail is much harder to keep eyes on, so bail helps to ensure that they don’t flee — and that they have incentive for actually following through on their case.
How Is Bail Determined?
Under the Eighth Amendment, bail may not be excessive, meaning it cannot be so high that it is benefitting the government or putting too extreme of a punishment on the defendant. That doesn’t mean a defendant must be able to pay bail, but the amount should be fair and in line with their risk of fleeing and criminal history, if there is any.
Conditions of Bail
Bail isn’t a “get out of jail free” card, and not just because it isn’t free. Additional conditions must be met on top of the payment, including a requirement to obey all laws, much like if a defendant was on parole. If the stipulated conditions aren’t met, bail can be revoked.
Even a fair bail cost can be pricey. Defendants can pay by cash, check or bond, or put up property as collateral. At the judge’s discretion, a defendant may be released on their “own recognizance,” which means the defendant doesn’t pay bail upon promise to appear in court.
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