Once you've been arrested and put in jail, there's probably just one thing going through your head -- getting out. This is generally accomplished by posting "bail," which usually consists of cash or a piece of property with cash value that you give to the court in return for your promise to show up to court when ordered to do so. If you do, the court will return your bail. However, if you don't show up, the court will keep your bail and most likely issue an arrest warrant, meaning you'll likely end up back in jail.
The Process of Setting Bail
If you've been arrested, you'll want to know your bail amount as soon as possible. If you're not able to see a judge right away, you could end up spending some time in jail, usually a weekend. In fact, this is sometimes a tactic used by the police as they'll arrest you on Friday, meaning that the earliest you could see a judge to set bail is Monday. However, for some of the more common crimes, jails often have a chart setting standard bail amounts which means getting out is a simple matter of paying the fixed amount.
The Eighth Amendment establishes that no person can have an excessive bail amount set against them. This has been held to mean that bail cannot be used as a way for the government to raise money or to punish a person for being arrested. The Eight Amendment therefore ensures that bail is only used as a guarantee that an arrested person comes back to court at the appointed time. The bail amount cannot be more than is reasonable to accomplish that purpose.
Despite the theory behind the Eighth Amendment, judges often use excessively high bail amounts to prohibit an arrested individual from getting out of jail. This type of excessive bail is often used for people that have been arrested on suspicion of dealing drugs, murder or other crimes where flight is a real possibility. Many people have argued that this type of high bail violates the Eighth Amendment, but almost all have been unsuccessful.
There are also situations in which bail is set at a reasonable amount, but the arrestee still cannot afford to make the payment. When this happens, the arrested individual must wait to ask the judge to lower the bail amount at a special bail hearing or during the defendant's first court appearance. Depending upon your financial situation, the judge may decide to lower your bail amount, which could make it easier to get out of jail.
Posting bail can be done in a few ways, such as:
Paying by cash or check;
Signing over ownership rights to property;
Giving a bond (a promise to pay if you don't appear) in the full amount of your bail; or
Signing a statement that says you will appear in court at the required time, generally called being released on your own recognizance or "O.R."
Generally, if you can be released on your own recognizance, you should try to take that option. However, many people are forced to purchase a bail bond in order to get released from jail. A bond is much like a check that you give to a friend, asking him or her not to cash it until you say it's okay to do so. Generally, the purchase price of the bond is about 10% of the value. Therefore, if your bail is set at $5000, you can expect to pay about $500 in order to purchase a bail bond.
You should avoid purchasing a bail bond, whenever possible. If you appear at court and meet all the requirements, you usually get the full amount of your bail returned to you (minus some small, administrative fees from the court). However, if you buy a bail bond, you're already out 10% of your bail amount (this is generally not refundable), and you'll also probably have to give the bail bondsman some collateral in order to get the bond (such as an interest in your car or home). If you fail to appear in court at a required time, the bondsman can cash in on the collateral, meaning that he or she could sell your property and take the money from the sale.
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