How Bail Works in Pennsylvania
Bail is used by Pennsylvania criminal courts to ensure that defendants charged with crimes will not flee the jurisdiction while awaiting trial. If you have been charged with a crime in this state, the first thing you will need to do is to contact a Lemoyne criminal defense attorney.
How does bail work in this state? Who qualifies for bail? Who doesn’t? If you are denied bail, or if you cannot afford it, do you have any options other than sitting in jail? If you’ll keep reading, you will find the answers to these questions and more about the rights of criminal defendants.
After an arrest in Pennsylvania, a criminal defendant is taken before a Magisterial District Judge (MDJ) who sets the bail amount. If the defendant pays the bail amount or uses a bail bond service, he or she will be released from jail while awaiting further developments in the case.
Which Defendants Are Not Eligible for Bail?
Bail is set in almost all felony cases unless someone is charged with a crime that is punishable upon conviction with the death penalty or life in prison. In rare cases, an MDJ may deny bail if he or she determines that denying bail is the only way to ensure a defendant’s court appearance.
When a criminal defendant who has paid bail appears for court, the bail money is returned. If a defendant does not appear for court, the court keeps the bail money and issues a warrant for the defendant’s arrest.
Practices vary slightly from one Pennsylvania county to another, but in most misdemeanor cases, at preliminary hearings, MDJs release misdemeanor defendants “ROR” or “on their own recognizance.” No bail is set or paid, and the defendant promises to appear in court as scheduled.
What is Unsecured Bail?
Misdemeanor defendants are also sometimes released on “unsecured” bail. With unsecured bail, a bail amount is set by a judge, but no bail money is required “up front.” If the defendant then fails to appear in court, he or she may be ordered to pay the unsecured bail amount.
It is extremely rare in a misdemeanor case for the police to arrest a suspect and take that suspect for an immediate arraignment. However, if the suspect is homeless or is about to flee the state or nation, the police may deem the suspect a flight risk who cannot be dealt with in any other way.
What is Considered When a Bail Amount is Set?
In most Pennsylvania felony cases, a Magisterial District Judge sets bail. When setting bail, the judge will consider the answers to these questions:
1. How serious was the alleged crime?
2. How strong is the state’s case against the defendant?
3. Does the defendant have a criminal record? If so, what are the details of that record?
4. Does the defendant have a job, family, and ties to the community?
5. Has the defendant failed to appear in court in the past?
6. How much money does the defendant have available for bail?
7. Is the defendant likely to flee or to pose a danger to public safety?
If You Are Under Investigation
If you know that you are being investigated for an alleged felony, your lawyer can find out if you will face criminal charges. When felony suspects turn themselves in with a lawyer’s help, bail is usually lower than it would have been if the police had to find the suspect to make the arrest.
When a Magisterial District Judge sets bail, the defendant will be released from custody as soon as someone posts that amount on the defendant’s behalf.
What is a Bail Bondsman’s Role?
Bail is not cheap, and paying cash for bail is rare. Many defendants seek help from a bail bondsman, who will post the entire bail amount for a small percentage of that amount. That percentage is the bondsman’s service fee, so that money is not returned.
A bondsman’s fee is typically ten percent of the bail figure. If a defendant has no cash available, some bondsmen may accept items like automobiles or jewelry as collateral.
Bail May Require More Than Cash
MDJs in Pennsylvania can impose additional bail conditions beyond a cash payment. Defendants are almost always ordered to avoid contact with any alleged victim and to avoid committing any new crime. Many defendants are ordered to refrain from drug or alcohol use.
A defendant may be placed on “supervised bail” – which can include drug testing – until the resolution of the case. If a defendant violates any condition of bail, the bail may be revoked, and the defendant will remain in jail until the case is concluded.
If You Are Arrested in Pennsylvania
If you are placed under arrest for a crime in Pennsylvania, it is important to know and exercise your rights. Be cooperative and do not resist your arrest in any way. Produce identification if the police ask for it.
If you are arrested as the result of a traffic stop, you may be asked to produce a driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance. After you have shown the police these documents, you are not required to answer any other questions.
If the police try to interrogate you, simply say something like, “I prefer to exercise my right to remain silent until my attorney is present.” At that point, you will need to contact a criminal defense lawyer at the first opportunity.
How Will a Defense Lawyer Help?
Do not enter a plea, sign anything, or try to negotiate a plea deal on your own. Do not try to act as your own lawyer. It is essential to have your lawyer’s advice as soon as possible and right through to the conclusion of your case. Remember, anything you say can be used against you.
If you are denied bail, or if your bail is set too high, your attorney may petition the court to reconsider. A Lemoyne criminal defense attorney will investigate the charge or charges you face, review the evidence, question the witnesses, and cast doubt on the state’s case against you.
As you probably know, the law does not require a criminal defendant to prove his or her innocence. Instead, your defense attorney’s job is to challenge the state’s evidence against you, establish reasonable doubt as to your guilt, and bring the case to its best possible outcome.