How is Bail Determined in Pennsylvania?
Most suspects who are brought into custody are eligible to be released on bail while awaiting trial. However, bail is not the same for everyone who is taken into custody. In this article, our criminal defense lawyers will explain the different types of bail in Pennsylvania, how judges determine bail for defendants, why some defendants qualify for free bail, and what to do if your loved one’s bail is excessive or unjust.
Types of Release on Bail in Pennsylvania
Before we discuss how bail is set, let’s cover the five different types of release on bail in Pennsylvania. The following categories are set forth by 234 Pa. Code Rule 524:
Release on Recognizance (ROR)
For most defendants, ROR represents the ideal bail scenario. If you qualify for ROR, all you have to do to be released from custody is sign a form. In order to be eligible for ROR, you’ll have to show the court that (1) you have strong family or employment ties to the community, (2) you are not a “flight risk” and will not attempt to skip bail or evade law enforcement, and (3) you are not a danger to the general public or any witnesses against you.
Release on Nonmonetary Conditions
Like ROR, this type of bail is also free. However, the court needs to be satisfied that you will comply with “nonmonetary conditions” (i.e. conditions which don’t involve money). For example, the bail authority can restrict where you’re allowed to travel while your case is pending.
Release on Unsecured Bail Bond
This is another form of free bail where do you not have to make a payment or deposit. The bail is not “secured” by collateral. However, you do have to sign an agreement stating that you will be liable for a certain amount of money if you don’t come back to court, or if you violate other conditions of bail (e.g. travel restrictions).
Release on Nominal Bail
This refers to surety bonds. In this type of release on bail, you deposit a small (“nominal”) fee “which the bail authority determines is sufficient security for [your] release,” while another agent (e.g. a bail bondsman) acts as surety.
There are a few caveats to keep in mind if you’re thinking about using a bail bondsman. For example, bondsmen may require collateral, such as attaching a lien to the defendant’s home. Bondsmen can also revoke surety bonds in cases where the defendant seems likely to skip bail. Finally, if you do skip bail, it’s the bondsman’s loss – unless he or she can find you. That means the bondsman will hire a bounty hunter (bail enforcement agent) to track you down for payment.
Release on a Monetary Condition
This means release depends on “compliance with a monetary condition” (i.e. payment).
Rule 524 provides that the monetary condition “shall not be greater than is necessary to reasonably ensure the defendant’s appearance and compliance with the conditions of the bail bond.” If you think your loved one’s bail is excessive, you may be able to have the bail amount reduced. However, you’ll need to prove there is good reason for the bail to be lowered. For this reason, it’s important to be represented by an experienced criminal defense attorney during your bail reduction hearing.
Factors That Determine Bail Amount
Bail is set early on in the criminal process during a stage called the preliminary arraignment. The preliminary arraignment is the very first stage following the actual arrest, taking place long before trial ever begins. During your preliminary arraignment, a judge called the Magistrate considers the following factors to make a decision about how bail should be set:
- Whether you have ties to the local community.
- Whether you are a flight risk.
- The nature and severity of the alleged crime.
- Whether you have a history of prior offenses.
- If you do have prior offenses, how much time has elapsed since the most recent offense?
- Whether you have past bail violations.
Your attorney will help to make sure that these and other factors are weighed fairly, and that inappropriate or irrelevant factors are excluded from consideration.
Defendants generally have a right to bail, and it is rare for bail to be outright denied. However, the judge may decide to deny bail (or may set bail at a prohibitively high amount) in cases where the defendant is likely to flee or creates a risk to the safety of the general public. For this reason, defendants charged with violent crimes like homicide or rape are more likely to be denied bail than other types of defendants. Again, it’s important to have an attorney advocating for your right to bail during the preliminary arraignment.
Finally, we cannot emphasize enough the importance of returning to court when scheduled to do so. If you fail to appear for a scheduled court date, you are “jumping bail” and can be returned to jail. It will also reflect poorly on your current case, and will make getting bail much more difficult should you ever find yourself charged with another crime in the future. Furthermore, you will forfeit the right to reclaim the bail money which was already posted.
Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyers Offering Free Consultations
If one of your loved ones was arrested in Philadelphia or elsewhere in Pennsylvania, or if you need help getting bail reduced, the defense attorneys of Young, Marr & Associates may be able to help. We have more than 20 years of experience handling a wide variety of felony and misdemeanor charges, and have achieved favorable results for many of our clients. To set up a free, confidential legal consultation, call our law offices today at (609) 755-3115 in New Jersey or (215) 701-6519 in Pennsylvania.
NO JAIL TIME
Commonwealth v. "H" (DUI case)
Client was charged with three separate DUI cases calling for mandatory minimum imprisonment of 90 days on each case. Client was advised to seek immediate intensive alcohol counseling. Client was sentenced to 1 year of house arrest after serving 3 days in the county prison.
Commonwealth v. "C" (Felony drug/Firearms case)
Client was charged with felony Delivery of drugs and illegal gun possession and was facing a mandatory 3-6 year prison sentence in the State prison system. Client was sentenced to one year of house arrest.
Commonwealth v. "S"
Client was charged with simple assault, domestic. After a hearing where evidence and testimony was presented, the entire case was dismissed by Judge Leonard Brown.
State of New Jersey v. "H"
Charges for young man charged with second degree aggravated assault were downgraded to third degree and he was accepted into the County Pretrial Intervention program with charges to be dismissed and record expunged after one year of misconduct free behavior.
OUR CRIMINAL DEFENSE TEAM INCLUDES TWO FORMER DISTRICT ATTORNEYS
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