When someone is arrested, their first inclination is usually to figure out how to get out of jail as quickly as possible. This is perfectly natural. JAIL SUCKS. It is scary. It is cold. It is hard. The food is terrible. It is designed to be as uncomfortable as possible. You are supposed to want to get out!
However, what you decide to do after your arrest is an extremely important decision that should not be made without a serious amount of careful thought.
SHOULD I CALL A BAIL BONDSMAN?
Again, people’s first inclination is try and get out immediately. The logical step is to call the first bail bondsman they can find. I CAUTION AGAINST THIS.
The most important, and very first thing you should do is call your criminal defense attorney.
Whether or not to post bail is a decision that should be made with the assistance of an attorney who knows both the bail process and the court process, in that particular jurisdiction. This is especially important at the beginning of a case. There are factors that go into deciding if it is best for you to spend the money on posting a bail, or not.
HOW THE BAIL PROCESS WORKS
Say you are arrested in downtown Seattle in King County. Depending on the nature of the arrest, you will likely be taken to the downtown jail where you will be processed and booked into jail. At this time, again depending on the type of crime for which you are arrested, a bail might be set. Say the bail is set at $100,000. You can get a bonds company to bail you out usually at a cost of 10% of the bail; therefore, in the above example you would be paying $10,000 to get out. THIS IS MONEY YOU WILL NOT GET BACK.
YOU MIGHT NOT NEED TO BAIL OUT
- The fact of the matter is that you might not even need to bail out. YOU MIGHT GET OUT FOR FREE. This can happen in a number of ways. After being booked into jail, you would be given a first appearance court hearing within 48 hours of being booked. In King County, they usually give you a first appearance the day after your arrest, or sometimes even the same day depending on the time you were arrested.
- The first appearance is a hearing that takes place at the jail and is definitely something that you want to have your criminal defense attorney at. Many times your attorney will discover that the State (i.e. the prosecution) has not actually filed charges yet. As a result, they may let you go right there or they might keep you there and set a second appearance date. Again, this has to happen within a very short period of time. In King County, it is usually set the day after or two days after your initial appearance. This extra time gives the prosecution a better chance to look at your case and decide whether they are going to immediately (or “rush”) file your case. If they don’t, guess what? You get out for free.
- If charges have been filed against you by the time of the second appearance, your criminal defense attorney may be able to get you released on your “personal recognizance”. This is basically a promise that you won’t get into trouble pending your next court date and that you will show up to court when told to do so. The factors that go into this kind of decision are 1) your danger to the community; and 2) your risk of flight. I always argue as many points as possible to urge the judge that you pose little risk in each of these categories. Again, this is where an experienced criminal defense attorney is important.
- If you call me early enough, in certain cases I can meet with the prosecutor and convince them not to file charges. This is not always the case, but it can happen. When a person is arrested it doesn’t always mean that they should have been.
YOUR BAIL CAN GO UP OR DOWN
After your initial bail amount is set, the amount can change when charges are filed. After more evidence is gathered by the police and the prosecution and is presented to the court, the judge can decide to either increase or decrease your bail. This is based on the arguments of your attorney, as well as those of the prosecution.
If you have already posted bail, and then your bail amount is decreased or eliminated entirely after going to court with your attorney, YOU DO NOT GET THE BOND FEE BACK.
CALL A CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY
It is very important that you consult your criminal defense attorney before deciding whether to post bail or not. I always go over the risks and benefits of posting bail with my clients. This has to be done very carefully and on a case by case basis. Depending on your arrest I know which courts are likely to release you with your promise to return to court and which are not. I also understand which cases are likely to get filed immediately, down the road, or not at all.
As you can see, this initial decision in your case isn’t just as simple as “I want to get out now.” It is a very important and complicated one that needs to be made with the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney. It really can be a life-altering decision.
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