Getting out of jail may or may not be easy if you’re arrested and charged with a crime in Southern California. Many suspects arrested for misdemeanors are released “O.R.” (on their own recognizance), but for most suspects who are charged with committing felonies, posting bail may be the only option for getting out of jail. When the charge is a serious or violent felony, or if the defendant is thought to be a flight risk, bail may be denied. How does bail work in the state of California, and what happens at a bail hearing?
If you are charged with a crime, bail is the sum of money that the court requires you to pay – along with your promise to appear in court on your court date – in order to get out of jail. In California, you can pay the bail amount with cash, a bail bond, or a property bond. The courts will accept cash, money orders, and personal, traveler’s, and cashier’s checks. If you appear in court as scheduled, and if you’re found not guilty or if the charge against you is dismissed, your cash bail will be returned to you.
However, a complicated criminal case may last for a year or longer, and a defendant will not be able to use or invest bail funds at all while the case is pending. Even when a defendant is acquitted or a charge is dismissed, it may take from 6 to 12 weeks to receive a cash bail back from the county after the conclusion of a case. If a defendant is found guilty, the bail money can be used toward paying his or her fines. If a defendant does not appear in court as scheduled, that defendant’s bail amount will be forfeited.
Paying for bail with cash is unusual, simply because not very many of us can simply write a personal check for a bail amount. Bail is never cheap. Although you can pay the full bail amount in cash if you are able, most people obtain a bail bond through a bail bondsman. A bail bondsman usually loans a defendant the full amount of the bail for a ten percent, up-front, nonrefundable fee.
Very few defendants in California use the option of posting a property bond. When they do, the value of the equity must be a minimum of 2x the amount of bail. An example would be if bail has been set at $200,000, the equity value of the property must be at least $400,000. To obtain a property bond, the property must have been recently appraised, any liens disclosed, and the property equity be estimated by a professional for the court. After posting a property bond, if the defendant does not appear in court as scheduled, the state can move ahead with foreclosure and seize the property.
HOW MUCH IS BAIL IN CALIFORNIA?
How much is bail? In California, a bail amount will depend on the charge and on the jurisdiction where the charge is filed. Each county in California has established its own list of crimes and bail amounts. For the most serious crimes in this state, bail can be a million dollars or more, although $20,000 and $50,000 are more typical bail amounts for less serious offenses. In Southern California, if someone cannot afford bail or believes that his or her bail amount is unfair or excessive, an experienced San Diego criminal defense attorney can request a bail hearing on that defendant’s behalf.
At a California bail hearing, a defendant and his or her attorney can ask the court to reduce the bail amount or to drop bail entirely and release the defendant on his or her own recognizance. Judges in this state have wide discretion to establish, modify, eliminate, or deny a defendant’s bail. The factors that a California judge will consider when determining a bail amount include the seriousness of the alleged crime, the defendant’s criminal record, the likelihood that the defendant will or will not appear in court as scheduled, and the safety of the general public if the suspect is released.
CAN A CALIFORNIA JUDGE INCREASE A DEFENDANT’S BAIL AMOUNT?
You may not know that while a judge in California can reduce a defendant’s bail amount, a judge may also increase a defendant’s bail amount if the judge believes that such action is warranted. If a defendant seeks a bail reduction, for instance, the state may bring new information or evidence to the court’s attention, and a judge may believe that the new information or evidence warrants a higher bail amount.
When a suspect is accused of a serious felony, a California judge usually will not reduce that suspect’s bail amount below the minimum bail amount for that charge as established by that jurisdiction. In such a case, the judge would have to be persuaded of “unusual circumstances” in the case or “good cause” to order a lower bail amount. A defendant’s other option is to ask to be released “O.R.”
Provided that the crime a defendant is charged with does not qualify that defendant for the death penalty in California, it may be possible for a defendant to be released without bail on his or her own recognizance. A judge will determine if releasing a defendant “O.R.” is a threat to the public’s safety or reduces the likelihood that the defendant will return to appear in court as scheduled.
CAN AGREEING TO CONDITIONS REDUCE A DEFENDANT’S BAIL?
An experienced San Diego criminal defense attorney may recommend proposing specific bail conditions to the judge. If a defendant will agree to certain specified bail conditions, an otherwise resolute judge may be persuaded to reduce a bail amount or even sign off on an O.R. release. A judge may not impose any bail condition that violates a defendant’s legal or constitutional rights.
Examples of bail conditions that an attorney might recommend proposing may include but are not limited to requiring that the defendant:
• surrender a driver’s license
• surrender a passport
• restrict travel
• enter a treatment facility
• wear a SCRAM monitoring device
• wear a GPS tracking device
Every criminal defendant in the United States has the right to an attorney. If you are charged with a crime, exercise that right, and do not try to act as your own attorney. A good California defense lawyer can give those facing criminal charges sound and reliable legal advice regarding bail options, defense strategies, and the other matters that anyone who is charged with a crime in Southern California will face. For those faced with the difficulty of paying heafty bail fees, there are local public resources, financial support programs for parents and other government resources.