Thursday, May 27, 2010

Understanding the Bail Process

Bail turns out to provide a fair amount of entertainment value if you look at the movies, TV shows and mystery novels around the subject of setting bail and catching those who skip town. There was even a 2004 TV series, Family Bonds, devoted to a New York family running a bail bond service. The greatest fictional criminal defense lawyer of all time, Perry Mason, was brilliant getting his clients released without bail or with a much reduced bail, to the DA’s perpetual consternation!

In real life, bail is not about drama. As the American Bar Association explains, it serves as a tool for allowing defendants to be released from custody until the time of trial. This allows a defendant to continue to work or otherwise lead a normal life. Bail does involve money, but it is not a fine. The idea is to ensure that the defendants will appear for all the pretrial and trial hearings. A defendant “raises bail” and offers it to the court, which returns it to them when the trial is over (minus a processing fee in some cases).
What determines the bail amount?
The amount of bail (also a point in some dramas) is decided by the judge or magistrate, who takes into account the following factors:
· How likely is it that the defendant might flee instead of facing trial?
· What is the severity of the crime?
· What danger might the defendant pose to the community?
The judge may also set conditions on bail. For example, it may be stipulated that the defendant must refrain from having contact with the alleged victim.
Can a person be released without bail?
There are many occasions when a judge may release a defendant on his or her own recognizance. In other words, instead of offering a sum of money as a guarantee of appearing in court, the defendant promises to appear. This is more likely for those defendants who have steady employment, verifiable roots in the community, and/or other circumstances which suggest that the risk of fleeing is very low. An experiencedcriminal attorney can be especially useful to clients at the bail setting step in the trial process.
What is a bail bond?
When a defendant cannot personally come up with the amount of money needed for the bail set by the judge, she or he can arrange for release through a bail bondsperson. The defendant pays the bondsperson something on the order of 10 percent of the sum, and the bondsperson guarantees the rest to the court in the event that the defendant should fail to appear. In many jurisdictions, the courts have made this kind of private service obsolete by releasing defendants upon payment of just 10 percent of the bail to the court.
What does this mean to me?
If you are charged in Florida, you should seek the counsel of a qualified Fort Lauderdale or Miami criminal defense attorney to help you understand and strengthen your options when it comes to bail or release strategies. You owe it to yourself.

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