Basic Facts about Bail
Bail is a sum of money that a person who has been arrested can give the court in exchange for permission to remain out of jail until his or her trial. This sum is determined by a judge after the person has been “booked” (the paperwork associated with an arrest, which includes recording basic information and taking fingerprints). The waiting period between booking and setting bail can last anywhere from a few hours to two days.
Courts use bail to ensure that a person who has been arrested will return to the courtroom for his or her trial, instead of trying to escape justice. If the person arrives for his or her court date, he or she will get the bail money back. If he or she does not, the court keeps the money. If friends, family, or a bail bondsman have helped a defendant post bail, they will also have a financial interest in making sure the accused individual does not flee the state or country.
When a defendant is brought before a judge to set bail, there are three possible outcomes. The judge may decline to set bail, which means the defendant must remain in jail until the trial. The judge may decide to set an amount, 10% of which must be paid before the defendant can return home. Finally, the judge may decide that the charges are so minor that bail is unnecessary; in this case, the defendant can simply go home until the trial without paying any amount.
A judge will consider several factors when making this choice, including:
- The nature of the charges – The more serious the offense, the higher the bail will be if the judge decides to set one. Crimes that are considered especially harmful or dangerous are likely not to carry any amount of bail; people accused of them often must stay in jail until their trials.
- The defendant’s flight risk – This term refers to the likelihood that a defendant will try to evade justice. It is based on many factors, including: the defendant’s resources and ability to leave the area, the defendant’s history and prior criminal activity, and who (if anyone) the defendant will live with before the trial. High flight risk translates to very high or declined bail.
- The defendant’s prior criminal history – If the defendant has multiple prior convictions, the judge may decide that he or she is likely to reoffend. If so, this may result in very high or declined bail.
As you can see, judges’ decisions about bail are based on some highly subjective criteria. If you or a loved one has been charged with a criminal offense, you need an experienced Champaign defense lawyer to fight for a fair outcome.