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Despite the ubiquitous references to it in pop culture, bail might be one of the most poorly understood aspects of the criminal justice system.
While most people are familiar with the basic concept — when someone is charged with a crime, a decision must be made as to whether they will be held or released— the bail process itself is more complicated than you might think.
This is because many factors can play into whether or not you receive bail and the conditions that are attached to bail when it is granted, including the severity of your crime and your history with the justice system.
If you are charged with a crime, you must have a bail hearing within 24 hours, and it is always a good idea to have an experienced criminal lawyer who can fight for your legal rights during the bail hearing to ensure you receive fair treatment.
In order to better understand how bail hearings impact criminal cases, here are three things everyone should know about how the system works.
1. Bail Does Not Necessarily Require a Formal Hearing
In situations where a person has been charged with a low-level offense and doesn’t have an extensive criminal record, the police have the discretionary power to release the individual who has been charged so long as they promise to appear in court on their scheduled date.
This is sometimes called an appearance notice or a promise to appear, and it doesn’t require you or anyone you know to make a cash payment or post a bond (though you may have to abide by certain conditions).
2. In More Serious Cases, Restrictions Apply
Generally speaking, bail is hard to secure if you meet one or more of the following criteria:
- If there are concerns that your release will endanger others
- If you are a repeat offender
- If you are alleged to have committed or been involved in a violent crime
- If you are deemed to be a flight risk
- If the judge has reason to doubt you will make your court date
In many cases, however, it is possible to receive bail even if you are charged with a more serious crime as long as you pay a returnable deposit and abide by certain conditions and restrictions.
3. Bail is Ultimately at the Judge’s Discretion
Bail exists as a way of ensuring that a person charged with a crime won’t flee, disappear, or endanger the public while awaiting trial. When applied correctly, bail is beneficial to everyone — it allows the individual facing charges to continue to work and go about their life as normal until the trial, and it ensures that potentially dangerous criminals are kept in custody.
But bail is ultimately a discretionary thing, and you stand a much better chance of securing bail if you have a good criminal defense lawyer who can make an eloquent argument for why you shouldn’t be held awaiting trial.
Bail is an integral part of our justice system, and though it is not without problems, when it works properly, it ensures that people who pose no risk to public safety are not detained unnecessarily before they have their day in court.
Unfortunately, in many cases bail is denied simply because the accused lacked the legal representation needed to make their case effectively. For this reason, it is always safest to ensure you have a skilled criminal defense lawyer to argue the case on your behalf.