When a person is arrested and indicted for a criminal offense, he or she will stand before a judge and will be given a set bail amount. That amount depends on a variety of factors, not the least of which being the severity of the crime of which the suspect is accused.
In most cases, the judge will ask both the prosecutor and the defense attorney for bail recommendations, but the judge has the final say in the matter. Even if both the defense attorney and the prosecutor recommend minimum bail, the judge can overrule their requests and set a higher amount.
At that point, the judge also has the authority to release the suspect on O.R. (Own Recognizance). This type of bail is the same as a monetary bail amount except that no money has to be paid to the courts. O.R. means that the suspect is allowed to go home to await trial, but will have to sign an agreement saying that he will appear in court on his trial date. The judge can add restrictions to O.R., such as:
– The suspect cannot leave the county
– The suspect cannot leave the state
– The suspect must surrender his or her passport
– The suspect must check in with a probation officer every week
– The suspect must abstain from drugs and/or alcohol
Should a suspect released on O.R. fail to meet the criteria for his release, the judge can issue a bench warrant for his arrest.
But if a bail amount is set, the following will directly influence that amount:
What Influences Bail Amount: Previous Convictions/Arrests
If the suspect has never been in trouble with the law before, the judge may take this into consideration. For example, a suspect who has been arrested for burglary, but has no priors, may be released with the minimum bail.
What Influences Bail Amount: Ties to the Community
Ties to the community can represent a variety of factors, such as employment, a family, or volunteer work. If the suspect has proven himself to hold several responsibilities which cannot be performed from inside a jail cell, the judge can make it as easy as possible for he or she to make bail. For example, a man accused of petty larceny who has two children, a wife, and a full-time job may meet requirements for ties to the community.
What Influences Bail Amount: Severity of the Crime
In many states, including California, a suspect accused of 1st Degree Murder will not be eligible for bail at all, which means that the judge will remand him or her to prison until his or her trial date. A suspect accused of a non-violent crime, such as tax evasion, may receive a lesser bail amount.
What Influences Bail Amount: Flight Risk
If a suspect has sufficient funds to flee the country, or if he or she is known to have property abroad, the bail amount might be set in the millions, or remand might be requested by the prosecutor. A high flight risk means that the suspect is likely to flee justice in the sanctity of another country, which can significantly increase the bail amount.