Paying bail to get out of jail may seem like a simple concept. The idea is that if someone gets arrested, someone else can pay money and the jailed person goes free. And while that is the essential idea behind bail, there is more that goes into the process.
Understanding how bail works, how courts determine bail amounts, what kinds of payment methods you can use, and other similar issues is important for anyone who is faced with arrest, or the arrest of a family member or loved one.
Arrests, Jail, Bail and the Criminal Justice System
Bail is a term that describes the release of a criminal defendant or arrestee after an arrest prior to the end of the criminal case. Bail can – but does not always – involve the defendant (or someone on the defendant’s behalf) paying money to a court. The money ensures that the defendant returns to court for the remainder of the criminal justice process. Therefore, bail is not a punishment given prior to a person being found guilty of any crime, but a way to ensure that criminal defendants return to court without the necessity of keeping them in custody the entire time.
In general, any time someone is arrested there will be three possible outcomes: the arrestee is released, the arrestee is charged and released on bail, or the arrestee is charged and remains in custody until the case comes to an end. Bail is one way people can be released from jail prior to a court determining guilt.
When police or law enforcement officers arrest people, they physically take the arrestees into custody. People under arrest are typically taken by police into custody, placed into a police vehicle, and then transferred to a jail or criminal processing facility for an administrative process often referred to as “booking. ” Sometimes the police will release arrestees without filing charges, but if charges are filed, the arrestee will have to remain in custody until released on bail, until a court renders a judgment, or until the case is otherwise resolved.
Booking is the administrative process that follows an arrest. During this process, the police perform a series of tasks, such as taking the arrestee’s photo, recording personal information such as name, date of birth, and age, taking fingerprints, taking any physical possessions the arrestee has and placing them into a storage facility, searching for any warrants, performing a health evaluation, and placing the arrestee in a detainment holding area.
Post-Arrest Custody, Pretrial Release
After the police have arrested and booked someone, one of three things will typically happen: First, the police can release the defendant with a written notice to appear at court. Second, the police can release the defendant only after he or she pays the appropriate bail amount. Third, the police can keep the defendant in custody until a court holds a bail hearing.
Bail schedules are lists of bail amount that apply to individual crimes in any jurisdiction. For example, a state’s bail schedule may set bail for the crime of disorderly conduct at $1,000, or set a $5,000 bail for burglary.
States laws will determine not only what bail amounts are appropriate for each crime and whether police can release a defendant without requiring bail, but also whether defendants are allowed to post bail following booking or if they must wait for a bail hearing. They also typically allow judges significant latitude in increasing or decreasing bail when the court deems it appropriate. (Federal courts do not have bail schedules, and bail amounts are up to the discretion of the court.)