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Bail System

How Does the Bail System Work in California?

Posting bail is often a primary concern when charged with a crime. In California, it is unconstitutional to hold somebody in detention simply because they cannot afford to post bail.

Bail System in California

Judges have discretion over deciding whether bail is appropriate and how much to impose. The amount of bail will always depend on the type of crime.

Bail is money that must be posted with the court for somebody to be released from custody. To keep a defendant remanded in custody, convincing evidence must be presented that detention is necessary to protect public safety. Defendants are required to appear at all court dates.

In Los Angeles County, only defendants arrested for serious or violent felony offenses can be held on bail. Otherwise, they must be released on their own recognizance (OR release), meaning they do not have to post bail or pay any amount to the court but must only promise to make future court appearances.

There are sometimes other restrictions, such as surrendering any weapons or a stay-away order prohibiting contact with the victim, which is common in domestic violence. There are limited situations and certain crimes where the judge can order a defendant to be detained without bail.

Understanding the Term "Bail"

"Bail" is the amount a defendant must pay to be released from jail. It is a standard method of ensuring attendance at all future court appearances.

Understanding the Term "Bail"

Bail money can be provided by the defendant or a bail bondsman. It's supposed to guarantee that somebody accused of committing a crime will attend the required court proceedings. The bail amount is refunded once the criminal case has been concluded.

The bail amount can be forfeited if a defendant fails to appear in court as ordered. Other legal consequences include a bench warrant for the defendant's arrest.

Some specific rules and procedures regulate the bail process to ensure fairness. All California counties have bail schedules that set the amount for each type of crime. Defendants can post bail with cash bail, but the most common method is through a bail bondsman.

Some may decide to post bail through a property bond that allows the court to place a lien on their property. If they fail to appear, the court could start foreclosure proceedings.

What is a Bail Schedule?

As noted above, all California counties have a bail schedule detailing bail amounts for different crimes. The amounts will vary depending on many factors.

Judges have some discretion to adjust these amounts based on the details, including the following:

  • Your criminal record.
  • The severity of the offense.
  • If you are a flight risk,
  • If you are a risk to public safety,
  • Your financial ability to post bail.

What Are Options for Release from Jail?

Once arrested, the court will hold a bail hearing to decide what to do with you pending a later trial date. Judges will set your bail, and they have the discretion to deviate from the bail schedule depending on the following factors:

  • Your criminal history.
  • Specific details of your case,
  • Whether you are a flight risk.

Criminal court judges have different options for determining your release from custody, including the following:

  • Posting bail. Judges can allow you to post bail through cash bail, bail bond, or property bond. Cash bail means depositing the total amount with the court clerk or the arresting agency. You will get a full refund within 90 days if you attend all court appearances. If you fail to appear, you will forfeit the bail to the court and issue a bench warrant for your arrest.
  • Own recognizance (OR). Released on your own recognizance means you do not have to post bail after you promise to appear at all future dates. OR release is the default method unless there is a reason to impose bail, such as a severe or violent crime.
  • Held on bail. Sometimes, you can be held in custody pending trial unless you can post the bail amount imposed by the judge.
  • Held without bail. Sometimes, the judge could detain you in custody without bail. This would include situations where you have deemed a threat to public safety.

How Can a Defendant Post Bail?

There are different ways to post bail to get released from custody after an arrest, including the following:

  • Bail Bond: This standard method involves a bail bondsman who will agree to pay the entire bail amount. You or a cosigner must pay a fee to the bondsman, typically 10%. If you fail to appear in court, the bondsman will attempt to collect your total bail amount.
  • Cash Bail: This method typically means you or a family member will pay the total bail amount in cash, which will be refunded later if you make all the court appearances.
  • Property Bond: This uncommon method involves using real estate as collateral to cover the bail amount. A professional appraisal is usually required to establish the property's value.

After your criminal case has concluded, the court releases (exonerates) your bail. Exoneration usually occurs when the case is resolved, such as when you are ordered to a drug diversion program or remanded into custody after a guilty verdict.

If you posted cash bail and were convicted, the cash will be applied to any court-ordered penalties, such as fines or restitution.

Using a cosigner is common when you cannot afford bail. A cosigner agrees to take responsibility for your court appearances and can be held financially liable if the defendant fails to comply.

What are the Bail Conditions in Los Angeles?

Anyone arrested in Los Angeles County and released without bail must still comply with terms and conditions for remaining out of custody while their case is pending, such as the following:

  • Regular check-ins.
  • Surrender weapons to police.
  • Stay-away order in domestic violence.
  • Travel restrictions not to leave the state.
  • Driving restrictions.
  • Ignition interlock device for DUI.
  • Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
  • Drug and alcohol testing.
  • Alcohol or drug abuse treatment.
  • Mental health treatment.
  • Electronic monitoring device.
  • Home detention.

A California criminal defense attorney can be critical in obtaining an own recognizance (OR release) or ensuring a fair bail amount.

They often argue that an OR release is appropriate, negotiate for lower bail, or request a "Humphrey hearing" to determine whether a defendant is being held due to an inability to post bail.

Obtaining a bond is usually quick, but once you secure it, it typically takes up to four hours to be released from custody.

As noted, bail bondsmen will post your bail in exchange for a non-refundable premium of 10% under California law. Thus, suppose your bail is set at $1000,000; you will pay the bondsman $10,000. Contact our law firm, Eisner Gorin LLP, in Los Angeles, CA, for more information.

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