The Role of Bail Bonds in the Criminal Justice System

Defendants charged with a crime may be released from jail if they can afford to pay their bail. This allows them to continue with their lives until their case is resolved.

Judges decide the amount of bail, considering various factors, including a defendant’s criminal and court history.

The Role of Bail Bonds in Pretrial Detention

Bail bonds are financial instruments that allow defendants or their families to post a percentage of the money needed for pretrial release. The idea is that defendants will return to court if they or their loved ones lose money, which can be a powerful incentive.

However, the amount required for a bail bond can be astronomical. When combined with many bail bond agents requiring a non-refundable premium, many low-income defendants remain incarcerated until their case is resolved.

Even more disturbing is that less demanding forms of bail, such as unsecured bonds, are used only a fraction of the time. Commercial bonds that require the use of private companies and impose forfeiture and re-arrest clauses in their contracts continue to dominate bonds posted in Supreme Court (the City’s trial court for felony cases). 

The Role of Bail Bonds in Post-Conviction Detention

Bail is money paid to the court for a promise that you will appear as scheduled. You can pay the court directly in cash (the courts usually return this money at the end of your case), or you can pay a Lancaster County bail bonds company to guarantee your appearance. Bail bondsmen charge a fee for this service, and they require collateral such as title to real estate to ensure that you will not skip your appearances.

Failure to comply with your court order will result in the forfeiture of your bond and the issuance of an arrest warrant. In some cases, the person posting the bail can retain any collateral used as security for the bond.

Studies indicate that the current bail system unfairly impacts individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and people of color. However, a move away from bail will require substantial planning and new funding to avoid unintentionally increasing the pretrial jail population.

The Role of Bail Bonds in Public Safety

The prevailing logic behind bail is that people will return to court for their trial if they or their loved ones can lose money or property if they skip out on their bond. However, many studies have shown that setting bail does not affect court attendance.

Bail conditions can include substance abuse prohibitions (including no use of drugs or alcohol), curfew restrictions, and firearms restrictions. These restrictions can significantly reduce defendants’ ability to hold jobs, care for their families, and participate in their communities while on bail.

The Role of Bail Bonds in Criminal Justice

Usually, when someone is arrested and held before trial, they can be released if they (or someone on their behalf) pays the court a cash bond. A judge determines the amount of this bond at a bail hearing, typically at the first court appearance following the arrest. The judge considers various factors, such as the nature and severity of the crime, the defendant’s criminal history and connection to the community, the likelihood that they will flee, their financial resources, and whether remaining in jail would present an undue hardship to their family.

The law requires judges to consider whether a person’s inability to pay bail will pose an “undue hardship” to their loved ones. When a person posts bail, they work with a bail agent to sign a contract with the court promising to pay the court money if the defendant fails to appear at their required court dates.

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