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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.

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Events Leading Up to the Bail Hearing

Sometimes, for minor crimes and infractions like most traffic matters, the police will simply issue you a citation with a court date on it and let you go on your way. In such a case, there will be no bail hearing, but this does not mean that you should ignore the citation and pretend like it never happened, because if you end up missing a required court appearance, you are likely to end up in jail nonetheless after a bench warrant is issued for your arrest. Instead, reach out to a skilled criminal defense attorney like those at Young, Marr & Associates as soon as you receive the citation, and we can contact the prosecutor to try to get the entire matter resolved in a single court appearance.

If a bail hearing is going to occur, that means you will have been arrested, which is what happens most of the time when the police believe that you have committed a crime. Sometimes, you will be arrested on the spot, while, other times the police will conduct an investigation into the matter before applying for a warrant for your arrest. After you have been arrested, you will be transported to the local police station for what is known as the booking process. During this process, you will be fingerprinted and photographed and your biographical information will be collected.

After booking, you will kept in the holding cell or transported to the local detention center until your initial appearance and bail hearing can be held, within no more than 72 hours of booking but usually much sooner. Because of this quick turnaround time and the importance of the bail hearing, it is absolutely vital that you reach out to a skilled bail hearing attorney like those at Young, Marr & Associates as soon after your arrest as possible. The more time we have to prepare for this hearing, the better chance we have of getting you released on minimal bail. Usually, the police will allow you a phone call during or immediately after the booking process, and this should be used to either contact an attorney directly or to get into contact with a loved one who can reach out to us on your behalf. Our attorneys at Young, Marr & Associates are on call at all hours to respond to emergent matters.

What Happens at the Bail Hearing?

As noted above, in Pennsylvania the preliminary arraignment must be held within 72 hours of a person’s arrest and booking. At the preliminary arraignment, the judge will read the charges against you and explain your rights, and also ask you to enter an initial plea of guilty or not guilty. In most cases, the bail hearing will occur as part of the preliminary arraignment, but it can also sometimes occur shortly thereafter. In some counties like Philadelphia, bail hearings are conducted remotely over a videoconferencing system, where you will appear live in court on a TV screen but actually be present in the holding cell at the station.

The judge at the bail hearing will decide first and foremost whether you can be released from jail while the underlying criminal case against you is resolved or if you must remain behind bars because you present a potential danger to the public. Typically, you will only be held without bail for the most violent, serious crimes like rape or homicide, or if you have a serious criminal record or a history of not showing up for court when required in the past. In other cases, as noted above, there is a chance that you will be released on your own recognizance, or without any bail at all. This is usually reserved for smaller crimes and infractions and those without a serious criminal history.

Most of the time, the judge will set bail based in one of the ways described in the above section. If money bail is set, the judge will typically based the amount off state guidelines, but in most cases does have some discretion to make it higher or lower. Factors that will be considered in deciding what amount to set bail at (and whether or not to grant bail in the first place) include the following:

  • 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, and how long ago they occurred
  • Whether you have past bail violations

It will be up to your attorney to make the most compelling argument based on these and other factors about why the judge should release you on little or no bail, and without cumbersome conditions like wearing a GPS ankle monitor or reporting back to the court. For this reason it is vital that you have an attorney like those on the team at Young, Marr & Associates who understand who these specific types of hearings work and have a great deal of experience successfully arguing for our clients to be released on minimal or no bail. If cash bail is ultimately set at a level you cannot afford without assistance, we can also help put you into contact with a reputable bail bondsman who can post bond for you.

What Happens if I “Jump Bail?”

Our team at Young, Marr & Associates 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. Furthermore, you will forfeit the right to reclaim the bail money which was already posted. If a bondsman posted the bail on your behalf, they will come after you or whoever signed on your behalf for repayment, and, as noted earlier in the article, they will not be shy about it, often using bounty hunters to track down those who ignore their calls and letters. Perhaps most importantly, jumping bail can also deal a blow to your chance of getting your charges downgraded or dismissed as prosecutors and judges do no look kindly on this sort of behavior.

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.

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