No one wants to be the recipient of a late-night call from a friend or family member who has found themselves arrested and behind bars and needs you to bail them out. You might be confused and even panicked about what you need to do to get them out of jail. Even though you have likely heard the term “bail” and seen the process play out on TV shows and in movies, you probably don’t know how bailing someone out of jail in Philadelphia actually works. Below, our trained Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer at The Law Offices of Lloyd Long explains how the Philadelphia bail process works.

How Bail Is Set in Philadelphia

After a person had been arrested, they will have what is called a preliminary arraignment, usually within several hours of their booking. At this arraignment, the defendant will appear before a “magistrate.” These magistrates are not judges or lawyers, but rather appointees whose primary job is to decide whether the defendant can be released pending trial and, if so, whether bail is required.

One interesting thing about the preliminary arraignment is that the defendant is not typically in the courtroom with the magistrate, but rather “videoconferenced” in from their holding cell in whichever police station is holding them. If the defendant does not reach out to an attorney, they often have to face this hearing without one. For this reason, one of the first things you should do if you find out a friend or family member is facing a bail hearing is to ensure that they have legal representation.

At this hearing, sometimes the defendant is not even given a chance to speak, especially when they are not represented by an attorney. Most times, the magistrate will simply look at the severity of the accused crime and the defendant’s criminal history and decide bail based on bail guidelines set by the state. These guidelines do not take into account a person’s current financial situation or ability to pay. An experienced bail hearing attorney like those at The Law Offices of Lloyd Long can advocate to the magistrate about your personal financial situation and ties to the community and make the case for the magistrate releasing you on little to no bail.

Types of Bail That Can Be Set in Philadelphia

Depending on what the magistrate decides, there are five different types of releases that might occur in Philadelphia. Below we explain each of these five situations:

Release on Your Own Recognizance

The magistrate has within their discretion to release someone on their own recognizance, meaning without bail and without any conditions other than showing up for court on the date prescribed. There are several factors the magistrate will consider including a person’s ties to the community through family or gainful employment, whether they are a “flight risk,” meaning that they might attempt to flee the jurisdiction of the court, and whether the crimes they are accused of may make them a danger to the public. A skilled lawyer can argue that these factors tilt in favor of the judge releasing you or your loved one on your own recognizance.

Release on Non-Monetary Conditions

The magistrate may choose to release someone, but with certain non-monetary conditions with which they must comply or risk being returned to jail. The conditions might include getting counseling, abstaining from the use of drugs or alcohol, and staying out of further trouble with the law.

Release on Unsecured Bail Bond

This is another situation where you will not be required to put any money up before you or your loved one is released. However, the defendant must sign a legal agreement that they will be responsible for paying a certain amount of money if they do not show up for court.

Release on Nominal Bail

Nominal bail involves surety bonds issued by a licensed bail bondsman. In this situation, if you are the one helping to bail your friend or family member out of jail, you will probably need to be the one to contact the bail bondsman. The defendant will be required to put up a small (nominal) fee and the rest will be put up by the bail bondsman.

The bail bondsman will likely require some sort of collateral, such as attaching a lien to the home of the defendant or a loved one. The risk here is that if you co-sign with a bail bondsman and your friend or family member does not show up for court, the bail bondsman will come after you for the amount owed. Often, they employ bounty hunters to track down individuals whose bail they secured who are now trying to dodge their obligations.

Release on a Monetary Condition

This is the type of bail most commonly known by the public. In this case, the magistrate will set an amount of bail which, under state law, “shall not be greater than is necessary to reasonably ensure the defendant’s appearance and compliance with the conditions of the bail bond.” The defendant or a friend of a family member like you will be required to put up 10% of the amount set either in the form of actual money or a lien on property such as your home.

Within 20 days of the final disposition of a case where the defendant has always shown up for their court appearances, the Clerk of Courts must refund 70% of any cash bail deposited to secure the release of the defendant to either the defendant or the person who made the deposit on their behalf.

If You Get a Call from a Loved One to Bail Them Out of Jail, Call Our Experienced Attorneys Right Away

The first thing you should do when you get a call from a friend of a family member in jail is work to get them a skilled criminal defense attorney like those at The Law Offices of Lloyd Long. An attorney can work to ensure that they are given the best bail conditions possible and they can guide you through the bail process if cash or surety is required. They can also get to work on crafting a defense to the underlying criminal charges that led to your friend or family member being put behind bars in the first place. Call our firm today at (215) 302-0171 for a free consultation.

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