The Problem with Expensive Bail

Bail is often established at an amount that makes it very difficult for people to pay. Over two thirds of people who are currently behind bars are not individuals who have been convicted of crimes. Instead, they are people who are waiting for trial. Bail may not have been ordered in some cases. However, in other situations these individuals simply cannot afford to make bail. This means that many innocent people are locked up for months or even years simply because of the inability to pay for bail.

What Bail Is

Bail is the amount of money that a criminal defendant pays to convince the court that he or she will return to trial. If the defendant does not appear as necessary, he or she may be imprisoned.

When Bail Is Paid

Bail is usually set at a defendant’s first court appearance after he or she is arrested and brought up on charges. This may be at the arraignment or at a separate bail hearing.

Standards

Many courts order an amount of bail based on procedure. For example, they may order $1,000 for petty misdemeanors or $100,000 for serious felonies. However, judges do not have to adhere to such standards and may make bail higher or lower than the standard amount. In some cases, a judge may decide to release someone on their own recognizance. The amount of bail is often based on individual circumstances.

How Bail Is Set

The judge sets bail. He or she considers a number of factors. A primary consideration is the seriousness of the charges. Additionally, the judge tries to determine if the defendant is a flight risk based on whether or not he or she has a job, family or ties to the community. A judge may also consider the defendant’s past criminal record including any instances of failing to appear to necessary court hearings.

There may be additional individual considerations, including the defendant having an outstanding warrant in another jurisdiction. The judge may keep such a defendant in custody instead of granting bail so that the other jurisdiction can complete extradition proceedings.

Options when Bail Is a Problem

If the defendant cannot pay the amount of bail ordered, there may be several options including:

Request Lower Bail Amount

A defendant may request a lower bail amount through his or her criminal defense lawyer. This may be successful if the ordered bail amount is excessive and may impose an economic hardship on the defendant. Such request may be made at an arraignment or bail hearing, depending on the procedures of the state and court. However, for this request to be fulfilled, the judge has to decide to do this at his or her discretion.

Use a Bail Bondsman

A bail bondsman may be able to help fill in the gap when bail is expensive. When a person uses a bail bondsman service, the bail bondman puts up the entire amount of bail on behalf of the defendant and charges the defendant a certain percentage of the total bond, commonly 10 percent of the bail amount. This ties the bail bondsman to the case because he or she will lose the money put up for the defendant if he or she fails to show up for court.

Putting Up Collateral

A defendant may be able to put up collateral to secure the cost of a bond, such as real estate, a valuable car or other property of value. When liquidating assets would be difficult or not sensible, placing the items as collateral can help secure the bail without having to actually sell the asset.

Guilty Plea Be Withdrawn

What Exactly Is a Plea Agreement?

A plea agreement is a proctored agreement between the prosecutor and the criminal defendant. In exchange for agreeing to plead guilty to an offense, the prosecutor usually agrees to some concession, such as dropping some charges, reducing charges or recommending a lighter sentence.

When Is a Plea Entered?

It is important to understand when a plea is entered to know when a plea agreement may be possible. A person may make a plea of guilty or not guilty at an arraignment. This is typically the second time that a criminal defendant has appeared before the judge and are usually scheduled within 30 days from the first appearance.

Can a Guilty Plea Be Withdrawn?

A guilty plea cannot usually be withdrawn. However, there are some exceptions. For example, if false promises or coercion was involved, the defendant may be able to change his or her plea. Because a guilty plea usually requires a defendant to provide a basic account of what occurred and a defendant to declare that he or she voluntarily and knowingly made the plea, it can be difficult for a criminal defendant to convince the court of being able to change his or plea when this information is already in the record.

Can a Not Guilty Plea Be Withdrawn?
In contrast, a criminal defendant can usually withdraw a not guilty plea at any point in the process, including from the very beginning of the case to right before the jury reads their verdict. For this reason, many criminal defendants often plead not guilty at arraignment and then change the plea to guilty after reaching a favorable plea agreement.

Who Decides Whether the Defendant Pleads Guilty or Not Guilty?

The criminal defendant has the right to determine whether to plead guilty or not guilty. While his or her lawyer may provide advice about which way he or she should plead, the defendant has the ultimate decision.

When Can a Plea Bargain Be Made?

A plea bargain may be made at any point in the process before the jury reaches a verdict. However, the most common time for a plea bargain to be made is after the arraignment but before the pre-trial hearing. However, a plea bargain may be made after a key event in the process, such as a motion being ruled in favor of the prosecution or the defendant. If a key witness becomes unavailable or recounts his or her story, a plea bargain may be made.

Driving Privileges with a Lawyer

In some situations, a fight against law enforcement and the Department of Motor Vehicles may occur. Each agency requires a separate hearing or case that is not connected to the other in most states. To ensure the best possible assistance is obtained to assist with these issues, a capable defense lawyer is often necessary. The ability to regain a driver’s license and driving privileges is usually at stake in these situations. Without assistance, severe penalties may be issued.

Accidents and Loss of Driving Privileges

When a person has even a minor traffic accident, tickets for speeding or other similar transgressions, it is possible to lose the privilege to drive a vehicle. In many states, even lesser crimes are taken seriously with all possible penalties and fines issued to the transgressor. Penalties of extensive fines, jail or prison terms and points added to a driving record may arise through these actions. Convictions of traffic offenses may also merit other penalties depending upon the severity of the crime and the circumstances surrounding the case.

Consequences of Some Crimes

Implications of conviction may differ by state, but some start at specific amounts for fines as well as jail or prison terms issued. Reckless driving often has penalties in fines up to $2,500 in addition to a year or less in jail or a state prison. Driving privileges may also be removed for as much as six months after all other penalties have been completed. For DUI cases, the convicted person may be required to obtain and pay for an ignition interlock device that does not allow them to drive without blowing air into it to check blood alcohol levels beforehand. Speeding usually is accompanied by fines through tickets unless the driver is evading an arrest by law enforcement or traveling at excessive speeds. These crimes often come with jail or prison terms.

For those that decide to drive with their license suspended, additional penalties may be issued. These crimes are considered just as serious as the original offense that caused the suspension. Some states may issue fines up to $2,500 and a year in jail or prison in addition to what was originally issued for the first crime committed. This usually also requires additional months or years added onto the suspension of the license. The time may be added on, doubled, tripled or remain the same depending upon state law and other factors. When someone drives with a suspended license, these offenses are usually on a person’s driving record for up to eleven years after the conviction. This usually causes an increase in automobile insurance or a removal from the company with discontinued coverage.

The Need for Legal Assistance

Some drivers who are accused and arrested for these crimes may decide they do not need a lawyer in these proceedings. Simply pleading guilty may be the fastest way to end a case, but it is usually the most costly in the long run. A legal representative may explain all the options that are available, answer any questions about the case and situation and deliver an efficient defense. Even if a lawyer is not hired to represent the defendant in court, it is important to consult one to go over all routes.

Examination of the Arresting Officer

Every aspect of the arresting officer’s circumstances, disciplinary record and training may be explored to aid in the cross-examination. Marks in his or her disciplinary record may be used to affect the credibility of the officer at trial. Even his or her memory of the events may be attacked, especially if only supported by a poorly written police report.

Another way that a cross-examination may be effective is by challenging an officer who portrays himself or herself as an expert. This is more likely to occur in cases involving field sobriety tests initiated after suspicion of drinking and driving. For example, a law enforcement officer may state that he or she observed the defendant’s eyes jerking during the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. By attacking the officer’s credibility based on his or her lack of medical training or limited experience, the criminal defense lawyer can help build reasonable doubt.

Denial of a Legal Representative

If a criminal defendant asks for a lawyer clearly and unwaveringly, law enforcement officers should not continue to question the defendant. A criminal defendant has a right to legal counsel once he or she is in custody and is questioned. Law enforcement must wait a reasonable time to question the defendant after he or she asserts the right to legal counsel.

Mistakes by Law Enforcement

If a law enforcement hears or sees something incriminating because of a police mistake, this evidence may be thrown out as inadmissible due to the legal doctrine of fruit of the poisonous tree.

Anonymous Report

In some states, an anonymous report may not provide sufficient grounds for a law enforcement officer to make a stop.

Challenge Sobriety Checkpoints

Sobriety checkpoints must often follow very strict rules based on state law. A criminal defense lawyer can investigate if this checkpoint followed the proper protocol or not.

Challenge Field Sobriety Tests or Breathalyzer Tests

In DUI cases, a criminal defense lawyer may challenge how a field sobriety test or Breathalyzer test was administered to assert that proper procedures were not followed.

Provide Feasible Alternative Explanation

There may be innocent explanations that can help explain suspicious behavior and characteristics such as unsteady balance, slurred speech, incomprehensible speech, red eyes and other factors. Factors such as bad weather, uneven ground, taking prescribed medication or having literacy problems may explain some of these behaviors.

Challenge BAC Results

There is often a dispute in DUI cases involving a BAC reading above the legal limit as to whether the reading accurately portrays the BAC at the time of the stop. Studies show that it may take anywhere between 30 minutes and here hours for the body to absorb alcohol. Some criminal defense lawyers may argue that the BAC was continuing to rise after the defendant was stopped and arrested and that his or her BAC level was much lower when actually stopped.

Introduce Witnesses

The defense has the constitutional right to call witnesses that support his or her defense. Witnesses may provide an alternative observation that supports the defendant.

Lack of Specific Intent

In some cases, the prosecution has the duty to show that the defendant had the specific intent to commit a particular crime. For example, in theft cases, the prosecution may have to show that the defendant had the intent to permanently deprive the owner of an item that he or she lawfully owned. Without this intent, the defendant cannot be convicted.

Conditions of Probation On Travelling

Each person who is sentenced to probation must follow the conditions of probation or risk facing imprisonment. There may be standard conditions that include not getting arrested for another crime in the same jurisdiction or anywhere else, not having relationships with people who are associated with criminal activity, submitting to routine or unexpected drug tests, consenting to searches and having to meet with a probation officer at certain intervals. There may be additional conditions that are more specific to the crime charged or to the defendant.

The individual under probation may be required to report information to the probation officer. This may include his or her current address, employment or other issues. When these things change, the defendant may be required to report these changes.

Restricted Travel Condition

Another standard probation condition is having travel restricted. The types of restrictions that are imposed often depend on the circumstances of the case, the defendant’s habits, the defendant’s employment and other factors. It is important that the criminal defendant has a clear understanding of the conditions of his or her probation, including all travel restrictions.

It is common for a person on probation not to be allowed to leave the state without receiving express written consent from his or her probation officer. Before leaving the state or country, it is important that the defendant speak with his or her parole officer about potential plans to see if this travel is permitted. If the plans are not approved and the defendant travels anyway, this action can result in the defendant being found to have violated the terms and conditions of his or her probation and being subject to penalties related to the violation.

Probation Violations

If a probation officer has reasonable grounds to suspect that the defendant has violated the terms and conditions of probation, he or she can order the arrest of the defendant without having to secure a warrant or create an affidavit to a judge. A person who is found to have violated probation may be subject to additional sentencing, often for the sentence that was suspended at the time of sentencing.

Modifying Probation

It may be possible in some situations to modify probation terms. These modifications may include a reduction in the amount of time when probation must be served, how often a defendant may have to meet with a probation officer or the elimination of certain conditions such as travel restrictions.

How modifications are handled vary in each area. Some areas will believe that a probation order is final and should not be altered. Some judges are willing to modify probation readily if the person serving probation has demonstrated that he or she has successfully complied with probation terms. Some judges will wait until at least half of the probation term has been served before considering making a modification. In addition to jurisdictional variations, the ability to modify probation also depends on the judge who oversees the case and the individual circumstances of the case.

Legal Assistance

It is vital that a person understand that if he or she has been placed on probation as part of the sentencing process that he or she must carefully abide by the conditions imposed by probation. All of the rules must be followed from the beginning until the end of the probation term. If a person is found to have violated probation, he or she may face time in prison. A criminal defense lawyer may be able to explain the terms and conditions of probation and the consequences of not carefully following the rules.