What is bail and how is it set?
The right to reasonable bail in a criminal case is a constitutional right that everyone in this country enjoys. When a person is arrested, the police use a "Bail Amount Schedule" dictated by the judges of their county for those persons seeking immediate release on bail without having to go to court. These "scheduled" bail amounts are extremely high ($5,000 to $1,000,000, or more depending on the charge). These amounts typically do not reflect mitigating factors in an individual case that may result in a drastic reduction of the bail amount.
Who can change the bail amount and what factors are considered?
Normally, judges in open court consider mitigating factors in the bail amount and may reduce (or in some rare cases, actually increase) the amount of bail. Some counties have “Bail & O.R. Officers” available 24/7 with the authority to reduce bail or even release an arrestee on his or her promise to appear (like a traffic ticket). Otherwise, only a judge in open court can reduce the bail form the “scheduled amount”. Besides deciding if the person is a "danger to society," before making the determination to reduce bail, several other factors will be considered. Other factors in determining any reduction in bail are: 1.) Is the person a flight risk? 2.) What connections, if any, does the person have to the local community? 3.) Has the person ever failed to appear for any court date (even traffic offenses)?
Who can assist me in getting a reduction of bail?
Only your attorney can request a reduction of bail from the judge or an "O.R." Officer. Bail bonding companies can't and won't do it since they have no interest in reducing the bail amount. Their fees are a percentage of the bail. The higher the bail, the more money they make off of you or your loved ones. Except in cases of flight risk or clients that classified as so-called "dangers to society," your attorney should be able to obtain a significant bail reduction, in many cases even get you released without posting bail ("O.R."). For example, I recently got a reduction of a million dollar bail down to forty-five thousand dollars (less than the "scheduled" bail) for my client in the San Francisco Superior Court.
Should I spend more money on bail or on my legal defense?
You will need money for your legal defense fund. Criminal cases can last several months to a year or more. You will need the best lawyer you can afford. If you have limited funds, you may want to consider using your money for your legal defense rather than spending it on an excessively high bail that probably can be significantly reduced by your attorney in court. It is foolish to spend an astronomically high bail premium on a case where the bail can be reduced in court by a motion from your attorney. Exhausting your money on bail and leaving nothing for your legal defense will result in a less favorable result of your case, and you may have to return to jail as part of your sentence. Good legal counsel will reduce the chances of this happening considerably.
Can I get a discount on my bail if I have a private attorney?
Yes. Clients who have already retained a private attorney (but not a court-appointed attorney or public defender) get a bail premium reduction from 10% down to 8% of the bail amount from almost all bail bond companies.
What about a DUI case?
In almost all first-time DUI cases, clients are usually released the next morning on their signature without having to post bail. In second, third or fourth offense cases, there will be a bail to be met before your are released. Like other bail amounts, bail in these cases are subject to significant reduction in court.
What if the bond compnay refers me to a lawyer, or my lawyer refers me to a specific bond company?
Get another attorney. Beware of any attorney who is referred to you by your bail bond company, or any attorney who urges you to use a specific bail bond company (bail bonding companies all charge the same rates), since highly illegal kickback schemes have been found in such cases.