Bail is money, a bond, or property given to a court by an arrested individual to assure that he or she will appear in court when required. If the offender fails to appear, the court may decide to keep the bail and issue an arrest warrant.
How Bail Is Set
The setting of bail is the responsibility of judges. Most jails offer standard bail schedules that indicate bail amounts for common offences since many people want to get out of jail right away (rather than waiting a day or more to see a judge). By paying the amount set forth in the stationhouse bail schedule, an accused person can frequently get out of jail fast.
If a suspect wants to post bail but cannot pay the sum set by the bail schedule, he or she might ask a judge to reduce the amount set by the bail schedule. A request for lesser bail may be made in a special bail hearing or when the suspect appears in court for the initial time, depending on the state’s processes (usually called the arraignment).
Limits on Bail: Can’t Be Excessive
The United States Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibits excessive bail. This means that bail should neither be used solely to earn funds for the government, nor should it be used to punish someone who has been accused of a crime. Remember that the fundamental goal of bail is to allow an accused individual to stay free until he or she is found guilty of a crime while also ensuring that he or she appears in court. (See Bail Jumping for details on what happens if the defendant fails to appear.)
That’s it for theory. Many judges, in fact, set an absurdly high bond in certain sorts of cases, knowing that the exorbitant bail will effectively keep the suspect in jail until the case is resolved.
Conditions of Bail
Suspects who have been bailed out are frequently required to follow “conditions of release.” If a suspect violates a condition, the judge may revoke bail and re-arrest and incarcerate the culprit. Some bail terms are standard, such as requiring a suspect to “follow all laws.” Other circumstances could be related to the offense for which a suspect was apprehended. A condition could, for example, prohibit a domestic violence suspect from contacting the alleged victim.
Options for Paying Bail
Bail can be in the form of any of the following:
- cash or check for the full amount of the bail
- property worth the full amount of the bail
- a bond (that is, a guaranteed payment of the full bail amount), or
- a waiver of payment on the condition that the defendant appear in court at the required time (commonly called release on one’s “own recognizance”).