In Alabama, after someone is arrested, the law requires that that person be presented by the police to a magistrate or judge within a reasonable period, not to exceed 48 hours. (See posts here, here, and here.) At this point, or maybe before, the Judge or magistrate will set a bond for each separate case for which a person is charged. Typically, the recommended jail schedule is followed pursuant to Rule 7 of the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure:
This article aptly describes the typical process. The judge in this case had imposed an excessive bond: $2500:
Nearly everywhere in the country, when a person is arrested, he’s taken to a local jail and then appears before a judge, who determines whether charges will be brought against him and, if so, sets the terms of his release. Most of the time, that entails a price: For a felony, the typical amount is $10,000. If a person can afford to pay the full amount, he’ll be released immediately and receive that money back from the court if he shows up for subsequent hearings. But 44 percent of Americans would struggle to cover a $400 emergency. For those without resources, the path to freedom lies with a bondsman, who typically charges about 10 percent of the full bail amount to act as the guarantor or surety for the rest. If the defendant can’t afford the bondsman’s fee up front, many bond companies will set up an installment plan and charge interest. That money will never be refunded to the defendant, no matter how his case is resolved. Bondsmen, however, don’t have to pay the court anything when they get a client released: They simply promise to ensure that he will show up in court for later hearings. If the client fails to do so, the bondsman must pay the bail in full, but in practice bondsmen usually crack down on whoever signed the bond—family or friends, in most cases—and force them to pay it instead. . . Anyone who can’t afford to post bail or pay the bondsman will . . . sit in jail until the district attorney makes a decision about whether to go forward with the charges. In New Orleans, that is on average a month for a misdemeanor; for a felony, the average is nearly four months.
(This article details two methods: cash and bailbond. In Alabama, there may be another option: a property bond. A sheriff may accept property in lieu of cash or a bondsman’s security. In this scenario, a person that owns real estate in the county can provide that property as security for the appearance of the Defendant.)
Bail-bond companies can set nearly any condition on a client until the case is resolved, from daily check-ins to drug tests, without facing much regulation. And they often tack on additional costs. A lawsuit filed in June against Blair’s Bail Bonds—owned by Blair Boutte, one of the most politically well-connected bondsmen in New Orleans—accused the company of charging hundreds of dollars in extra fees and requiring clients to wear ankle monitors. The plaintiff was allegedly made to wear such a monitor, charged $10 a day for it, and then kidnapped by bondsmen in order to extort money from him and his mother.
If a client refuses any of these terms or misses a payment, the bondsman can threaten to forfeit the bail, which could land the client back in jail. Even if they don’t go this route, bondsmen will often make harassing phone calls and eventually turn the sum owed over to debt collectors.
- Typically, a circuit clerk sets the bond for state charges. A judge may not see the case for weeks and that is only if someone requests a preliminary hearing and/or requests a bond reduction.
- When dealing with bondsmen, you only pay him a percentage (usually 10%) of the court’s bond amount. You do not pay the bondsman the full amount of the bond. If you have that much, pay it to the court.
- The best option: submit real estate as security if you or your family have access to such. You will not need to involve a bailbondsman or substantial cash.
- Sometimes, especially on child support cases or post-conviction fine collection cases, a judge will set a “cash bond.” A “cash bond” requires payment of a set amount of cash in order to be released. On these cases, typically, the cash paid for the bond is applied to the arrearage on the prior court-ordered monies.
Know that some states are modifying their bond systems. For instance, New Jersey recently overhauled their bailbond process:
A computer algorithm now helps decide whether a criminal suspect is given bail, let out of jail with an ankle monitor or kept in jail until trial. The algorithm created by the nonprofit Lara and John Arnold Foundation considers nine factors to decide whether a suspect is a risk to reoffend if they are released. The factors include the type of crime, past convictions, age and whether someone has failed to previously appear in court.
“Are you a risk of reoffending if released in the community and are you a risk of not showing up in the court?” Judge Glenn Grant, who runs the state’s court system, said of the key decision the algorithm helps to decide, while also cutting down on discriminatory factors that disproportionately affect minorities.
Grant said that the principal objectives of bail reform was to make sure that poorer low-risk offenders aren’t held in jail just because they can’t afford bail, and also to eliminate the requirement that violent offenders be given cash bail. “Under both of those measures, I think that the system has worked as expected,” he said.
Change is being forced through the courts in Texas:
In April, U.S. Chief District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal ruled that Harris County’s bail system violated poor misdemeanor defendants’ rights to equal protection and due process because magistrates and judges had a systematic practice of failing to consider people’s ability to pay when setting their bail, as the Constitution requires. Instead of making individualized decisions about bail, hearing officers stuck to a rigid bail schedule in about 90 percent of cases, Rosenthal found — meaning that, in Harris County, if you couldn’t pay the amount on that schedule, the bail basically amounted to a pretrial detention order, which is illegal for misdemeanors in Texas. As a result, Rosenthal ordered that almost all misdemeanor arrestees be released within 24 hours on personal bonds if they could not afford bail. . .
Seminal case law has said that defendants should be released before trial by the least restrictive means — such as on no conditions, or, if they are a flight risk or public safety threat, with an ankle monitor — and that pretrial detention should be a “carefully limited exception.”
And otherwise, efforts to improve pretrial justice are underway across the country, from small towns that seek to lower jail populations to bills before Congress that would restrict federal funding for states that continue to rely on money bail.