In 2016, The Atlantic reported that over 60% of people in America's jails had not yet been to trial. In the United States, you're considered innocent until you're proven guilty, so why are so many people who have not yet been proven guilty confined to jail cells? For most of them, it comes down to money. People who can't afford to pay bail remain in jail – sometimes for extended periods of time – even though they haven't been convicted of any crime. An extended stay in a jail cell can result in loss of employment, housing, and even custody of children. Is there a way out? If you or someone you love is arrested and can't afford bail, take a look at some of the options available to you.
A Bail Bondsman
Of all the options available for people stuck in jail awaiting trial, the bail bondsman is probably the best-known option. However, if you've never needed a bail bondsman before, you may be unfamiliar with how bail bonds work.
Bail bondsman services are designed to help people get out of jail while they await trial. The way it usually works is that you, or someone else working on your behalf, pays the bail bondsman a percentage of the bail amount. The bail bondsman then pays the court the full amount required for your release. When you show up for your court date, the bail bondsman gets their money refunded. If the bail is very high or you seem to pose a flight risk, the bail bondsman may also ask for collateral to ensure that they can recover their money eventually.
A Bail Reduction Hearing
Another option is to ask your attorney or public defender to request a bail reduction hearing. This is a hearing to ask the judge to reduce the amount of bail to an amount that you can afford. The United States Constitution prohibits courts from setting excessive bail. While the term "excessive bail" is not explicitly defined, a bail amount that's so far out of the defendant's means that the defendant is forced to stay in jail may be considered excessive, especially if the charge is relatively minor and the defendant doesn't pose a flight risk or danger to the community.
Depending on the charge and the circumstances, asking for a bail reduction hearing may be a good strategy. The judge may lower the bail or in some cases may decide to release you on your own recognizance. The judge may also set conditions for bail that aren't money-related – for example, they may require electronic monitoring, drug testing, or the relinquishment of your passport. Many defendants prefer to meet these conditions rather than remain in jail.
Contact A Community Bail Fund
If you can't get your bail reduced and you can't afford bail even with the help of a bail bondsman, you still may have another option. There are activists who raise money for community bail funds. Community bail funds are local groups who help people who cannot afford bail while awaiting trial.
In May 2018, a Philadelphia community bail fund was used to bail 15 women out of jail in time for Mother's Day. A month later, the same group helped bail 10 dads out of jail in time for Father's Day. And Philadelphia isn't the only city with a bail fund – bail reform activists and others have set up similar organizations in cities across the country. It's worth looking into bail assistance organizations in your own community.
Being arrested can be frightening, especially when you know that you can't easily afford to bail yourself out. But a high bail is not necessarily an insurmountable problem – one of these three options may be the key to you or your loved one being released from jail. For more information, talk to a lawyer such as Raymond Martinez Attorney at Law.