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 lawyers at The Law Offices of Lloyd Long explain 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 “video-conferenced” 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 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.
Negotiating Bail in Philadelphia
While magistrates can impose bail based on legal guidelines, they also have the discretion to increase or reduce bail. Your attorney can advocate on your behalf and attempt to persuade a magistrate that your bail should be reduced. This is often done at the bail hearing and can be accomplished through a motion. Depending on the type of bail and the circumstances surrounding your case, a separate hearing on the motion may be arranged.
Magistrates consider numerous factors when determining bail in Philly:
- Whether the defendant is a flight risk
- The violent nature of the underlying offense
- The defendant’s connections to their community
- Whether the defendant is a threat to public safety
Your attorney can present evidence that you are not a flight risk because you have strong ties to your community. If you are charged with a non-violent offense, your lawyer can also argue that you are not a dangerous threat to public safety. A magistrate may also be more willing to reduce bail for a defendant who is a first-time offender or has a shorter criminal history.
What are the 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 the 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.
Bail is Not Always Granted in Philadelphia
Defendants have a right to a bail hearing and reasonable bail. Most defendants are granted bail in one form or another. However, a few defendants will be denied bail due to the seriousness of their charges or other factors surrounding their case. If you think you may be denied bail, or your bail will be extremely high, consult with an attorney as soon as you can.
Bail is sometimes denied for the most serious of offenders. This often includes defendants charged with crimes like murder and other defendants who are otherwise extremely violent. Magistrates are more inclined to grant bail unless there is a very good reason not to. That reason is often that the defendant is so dangerous and violent that the court cannot release them back into the public.
In other cases where bail is denied, the defendant may not be violent at all. Instead, the defendant may have a history of skipping bail, so the judge will deny bail to prevent them from avoiding their trial. Similarly, if you have skipped bail, been caught, and have been returned to court, the magistrate may revoke your bail. It can be challenging preparing for a trial while you are behind bars, so you should speak to an attorney about your bail immediately.
What If I Cannot Afford Bail in Philadelphia?
Unfortunately, not everyone is in a position to pay bail and get released. Many defendants cannot afford any amount of bail and have no choice but to stay in jail until their trial. Bail is often determined based on the severity of the offense and the facts surrounding the case. While a magistrate may consider a defendant’s ability to pay bail, it is not usually the primary determining factor for bail.
If you are stuck in jail because you cannot afford bail, you might be waiting for a while. It is not uncommon for the trial process to take months to complete. This is especially so in cases where the facts are complicated and prosecutors want to take their time handling the case. However, if you are found guilty at the end of your trial, your time spent waiting in jail could be credited to your overall sentence. If you were convicted of a misdemeanor and sentenced to 9 months in jail, but you already spent 3 months in jail awaiting trial, you may only need to serve 6 more months.
What is the Consequence of Skipping Bail in Philadelphia?
Skipping bail, or failing to appear for your hearing after being released on bail, has some pretty serious consequences. First, you can be re-arrested by the police and brought back into court. If you employed a bail bondsman, the bondsman might hire bounty hunters to track you down. You can be brought back before a judge who must reschedule your hearing and decide the issue of bail again. The fact that you already skipped bail once will make the judge far less inclined to grant bail again. There is a good chance you will be held without bail from that point forward.
Skipping bail can also be expensive. If you skip on a bail bondsman, they will come after you for the full amount of the bail they had to pay. If you pay bail yourself, any money you paid will be forfeited to the court. Ordinarily, if you did not skip bail, that money would have been returned to you. Skipping bail could put you into serious debt before your trial even begins. After trial, you may also have to pay various fines and court fees if you are found guilty.
Getting Bail After a Guilty Verdict but Before Sentencing in Philadelphia
Bail is not just for the beginning of your trial. Bail can also be an issue at the end of the trial after a guilty verdict. When a defendant is found guilty, they may have the option to file a direct appeal. The appeal is like a review of the case to check for legal errors to make sure the court came to a fair and just conclusion. You may be permitted to be released on bail while your appeal is pending.
Much like at the beginning of the trial, bail can be denied under certain circumstances. For example, if your sentence is capital punishment or life in prison, no bail may be granted while you appeal your case. However, if you are granted bail, you must immediately begin your post-sentence motion or appeals process. If your appeal is successful, you may be granted a new trial and remain out of jail until the new trial is over. If your appeal is unsuccessful, you will go to prison to serve your term.
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.