Recently Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) led a discussion with attorneys and advocates regarding the need to reform the California bail system and how judges award those bail amounts. Bonita believes the current bail system not only criminalizes the poor, but also doesn’t protect communities.
Assemblyman Bonta Tries to Change California’s Bail Bond System
Bail Bond Overview
Chances are you will have to get a bail bond to get out of jail if you or your loved one has been arrested for any type of serious crime. You may have also seen television commercials about bail bonds, but unless you’ve directly dealt with the issue of posting bail, you may find that you need a brush up on your knowledge about bail bonds.
Bail constitutes an agreement between you, the defendant, and the court. As the defendant, you agree to post a specific amount of money in exchange for the assurance that you’ll return to court for your scheduled court date. Upon appearing in court as scheduled, and as stated in the bail bond agreement, you get your money back.
As an example, if the court sets bail at $15,000, this means you can pay $15,000 to the court in order to be released from jail. Once you return to court on your specified date, you’re able to get your money back. You’ll get your money back even if you’ve been convicted at your trial. However, you don’t show up for even one of your court dates, you will immediately forfeit your $15,000 and a warrant for your arrest will be issued. If you can’t pay the bail the court has set, you won’t be able to get released from jail. Therefore, you will have to remain in jail until the date the court has set for your trial.
Not being able to post your bail can be a difficult and stressful situation. It means you may have to remain in jail for months between the time of your arrest and the beginning of your trial. Because of this, posting bail usually becomes your first priority after being arrested. Therefore, this is the reason people turn to bail bonds as a means to be released from jail.
How Bail is Determined and Set Currently
Once you’ve been arrested, you’re immediately booked to jail. Once in jail, all your vital information, such as name and personal information, as well as your photo and fingerprints are recorded in the police department’s computer and database. Also, all your personal items are impound. After being booked, you’ll be given a sobriety test. This may be a second sobriety test if you’ve been arrested due to failing the first sobriety test. After this, you’ll be permitted to make one phone call, after which you’ll be put into a jail cell. After this your hearing will be scheduled, where the judge will decide what the amount of your bail will be. This usually happens within 48 hours after your arrest.
Normally the majority of jurisdictions use a schedule for bail to decide the bail amount that should be set. The Superior Court of Los Angeles County sets a bail of $20,000 if a person has been arrested for a felony. The maximum sentence possible for for a felony is 3 years in jail. However, the judge hearing the case has considerable leeway when they decide to set bail. Frequently they will also take external circumstances into consideration when setting bail.
As an example, if this was your first offense, you are currently employed, and have a family in the area, the judge may decide to reduce your bail amount below the required amount. The judge may even decide to completely discard it.
Another example would be if you have multiple offenses on your record and the judge thinks you might be a flight risk. In this instance, the judge’s decision might be to increase your bail or even revoke your ability and permission to post bail.
Some jurisdictions may assign your bail as soon as you’re booked and not wait for an initial hearing. This typically happens only in low level offenses. A police officer will advise you whether you will be able to immediately post bail of if you will be permitted to use a credit card to pay your bail amount.
As Bonta explained, currently many of these amounts or determined based on a person’s ability to pay rather than if they will be able to make the next court date - which is what is should be based on, according to Bonta.
As San Francisco Dist. Atty. George Gascón explained, at least 29 jurisdictions have developed “risk-assessment” models. These models require a court and pretrial staff to assess data and other evidence to determine if a person should be released.
“To me, at its core, this is an issue of social, economic and racial justice,” Bonta said.
“It is going to be a heavy lift. It is a massive, fundamental change to the status quo.”
There are many factors that play into why or why not bail should be based on ability to pay, or not. As has been shown by data, when a person is in jail for even a few days, it can result in loss of wages, which can leave some defendants 40% more likely to commit crime in the future.
“If you can lose your home, if you can lose your car, if you can lose your job, without ever being convicted of anything, that is punishment,” said Zachary Norris, executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.
How Bail Bonds Work
Bail bonds are similar to personal loans. After putting down a small percentage for the total amount, a bail bondsman or agent, gives you the rest of the money needed for your bail. Like a loan officer, this bail bondsman or agent is similar to the lender of a personal loan. As an example, if your bail is $15,000, you or a family member would be required to make a deposit of $2,000. The bail bondsman or agent would then give you the $15,000 bail needed for you to “post bail.” Most bail bond companies also will require you to provide them with some type of collateral in order to get the remaining money needed for your bail bond. Collateral is usually a deed to your house, item of jewelry, or car. This collateral is used in order to secure the bail bonds’ loan in case you don’t show up at your appointed court date, in which case you would not get your money back. After your trial is over, and you receive your money back from the court, the money is returned to bail bond company you received your bail from.
Due to the fact that this is a financial risk the bail bondsman and bail bond company take because of this loan, they will often take additional precautions to make sure you attend all of your court dates. The bail bondsman wants to make sure his or her company receives back all the bail money it loaned you. As a result of these precautions, bail bond companies will frequently do the following:
Prefer a relative or friend put up the necessary collateral for your bond. This is because you will then be less likely to miss a court date since your relative’s or friend’s house or property is on the line in for your bail bond.
Call you before each court date in order to remind your about your upcoming trial. Require you to make periodic check-ins at their bail bond office to make sure you haven’t left town.
Like most defendants, you will probably agree that these precautions are a small prices to pay in order to be able to stay out of jail while waiting for a trial date or during your trial.
Bail Bonds and Their Various Types
Some of the different bail bonds that are available include:
Surety Bond: This type of bail bond is secured by an insurance company. It’s common for bail bondsmen to work with insurance companies in order to provide financial backing for their bonds.
Property Bond: If you own property (i.e., a house), the bail bondsman may be able to use this as collateral instead of putting down cash. With this type of bond the court places a lien on your property and can sell it if you do not appear for your court date(s).
Release on Own Recognizance: Sometimes a judge will agree to release you without setting any bail amount. This normally happens only if you are accused of a low level crime and the judge doesn’t consider you to be a flight risk.
Cite Out: This would be if you are caught doing something illegal and the officer then decides to issue a citation to appear in court instead of booking you into jail.
Immigration Bond: If you are detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an immigration bond will permit you to be released from jail until your hearing is completed.
Bail and Bounty Hunters
If you decide to flee or skip your trial and a bail bondsman is not able to reach you, chances are they will then hire a person called a “bounty hunter” in order to track you down and then return you to custody.
How to Secure a Bail Bond
If your bail amount is set higher than you or your family member or friend can afford, you will need to secure a bail bond as soon as possible. However, there are still important considerations and questions you need to take into consideration.
A bail bondsman will want to make sure they’re getting the most for their money. To do this they will charge a bail bond bond premium fee that is usually 10-20% of your bail bond amount. This fee is normally not refundable. This means that even if you show up for all your court dates and receive your bail money back, you will never get that 10-20% of your money back.
Therefore, it would be wise to look for a bail bondsman that would require a lower premium.
Also, you will also want to take into consideration if there is an initiation or application fee in addition to the premium.
In addition to bail bond feeds, there are also court and attorney fees you need to take into consideration.
Working with a Sevens Legal, APC, Defense Attorney
If you have been arrested and accused of a crime, you needs to acquire and work with a criminal defense attorney such as Sevens Legal, APC. Once you have discussed the specifics of the allegations against you with your attorney, they will inform you of the strengths and weaknesses pertaining to your case, as well as any risk of conviction and punishment you may be facing. A criminal defense attorney such as Sevens Legal, APC, can also negotiate a plea deal as well as decide to move forward with trial, while working constantly to make sure your best interests are served. At Sevens Legal, APC, every defendant has a right to our zealous defense. Contact Sevens Legal, APC, today for a free consultation.
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