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What is the Bail System in California?

Suppose you were charged with a crime. In that case, the issue of posting bail is often a primary concern. In California, it is unconstitutional to hold someone in detention simply because they cannot afford bail.

Bail System in California
If arrested, you can typically get an own recognizance release or post bail with the court.

Still, judges have some discretion over deciding whether bail is appropriate and how much to impose. The bail amount will always depend on the type of crime.

Most people know that “bail” is money that must be posted with the court for someone to be released and appear at all future court dates. To keep a defendant remanded in custody, there must be convincing evidence that detention is necessary to protect public safety. 

For example, In Los Angeles County, only defendants arrested for serious or violent felony crimes can be held on bail. Otherwise, they must be released on their own recognizance (OR release), meaning they are not required to post bail or pay any amount to the court. Defendants must only promise to make future court appearances.

Sometimes, there are other restrictions, such as surrendering any weapons or a stay-away order prohibiting contact with the victim, which is common in domestic violence. Notably, there are some situations and certain crimes where the judge can order a defendant to be detained without bail.

What Is Bail?

While “bail” is generally understood, it can be defined as the amount a defendant must pay to be released from jail. Bail is a standard method to ensure that someone will attend their future court appearances.

Bail money can be provided by the defendant or a bail bondsman. It's designed to guarantee that someone accused of committing a crime will attend the required court proceedings. The bail amount will be refunded once the criminal case has been concluded.

Suppose a defendant fails to appear in court as ordered. In that case, the bail amount will typically be forfeited, and other legal consequences, such as a bench warrant, will occur. Certain rules and procedures regulate the bail process to ensure fairness.

All California counties have bail schedules setting the amount for each type of crime. Defendants can post bail in different ways, such as with cash bail. However, the most common method is through a bail bondsman.

Some might post bail through a property bond that allows the court to place a lien on their property. If they fail to appear, the court could start foreclosure proceedings.

What are Bail Conditions in Los Angeles?

People who are arrested in Los Angeles County and are released without bail must still comply with specific terms and conditions for remaining out of custody while their case is pending, including the following: 

  • Regular check-ins,
  • Travel restrictions not to leave the state,
  • Driving restrictions,
  • Ignition interlock device for DUI,
  • Stay-away order in domestic violence,
  • Surrender weapons to police,
  • Alcoholics Anonymous meetings,
  • Drug and alcohol testing,
  • Alcohol or drug abuse treatment,
  • Mental health treatment,
  • Electronic monitoring device,
  • Home detention,
  • Released to the family on a promise to appear.

What Are the Options for Release?

After you are arrested, the court will hold a bail hearing to determine what to do with you pending a later trial date. The judge will set your bail, and they have some discretion to deviate from the bail schedule depending on the following:

  • Details of your case,
  • Your criminal record,
  • Whether you are a flight risk.

The judge has different options for deciding your release, such as the following:

  • Posting bail. The judge could allow you to post bail through cash bail, bail bond, or property bond. Cash bail means depositing the full amount with the court clerk or the arresting agency. You will get a full refund within 90 days if you attend all court appearances. If you fail to appear, you will forfeit the bail to the court and issue a bench warrant for your arrest.
  • Own recognizance (OR). Released on your own recognizance means you are released without having to post bail after you promise to appear at all future dates. OR is the default method unless there is a reason to impose bail, such as a violent crime. An OR will have terms and conditions as discussed above.
  • Held on bail. You would be held in custody pending trial unless you can post the bail amount imposed by the judge.
  • Held without bail. In some severe cases, the judge could detain you in custody without bail. This would include situations where you are deemed a threat to public safety. 

What Are Bail Schedules?

As noted, all California counties have a bail schedule that lists bail amounts for different crimes.  The amounts will vary, reflecting local policies and crime rates. Judges still have some discretion to adjust these amounts based on the case details, such as the following: 

  • Your criminal history,
  • Whether you are a flight risk,
  • Whether you are a risk to public safety,
  • The severity of the crime and
  • Your financial ability to post bail. 

How Can You Post Bail?

There are different ways to post bail to get released from custody after an arrest, such as the following: 

  • Bail Bond: This most common method involves a bail bondsman who agrees to pay the entire bail amount. You or a cosigner will have to pay a fee to the bondsman, typically 10%. If you fail to appear in court, the bondsman will attempt to collect your total bail amount.
  • Cash Bail: This method usually means you or a family member will pay the total bail amount in cash, which will be refunded if you make all the court appearances.
  • Property Bond: This method is uncommon but involves using real estate as collateral to cover the bail amount. A professional appraisal is often necessary to establish the property's value. 

Once your criminal case ends, the court releases (exonerates) your bail. Exoneration typically occurs when the case is resolved, such as when you are ordered to a drug diversion program or remanded into custody after a guilty verdict. 

If you posted cash bail and were convicted, the cash will be applied to these court-ordered penalties, including fines or restitution.

Further, using a cosigner is common when you cannot afford bail. A cosigner agrees to take responsibility for your appearances in court and can be held financially liable if the defendant fails to comply. Cosigning a bail bond is a serious commitment and should be carefully considered.

What is the Role of the Attorney?

Our California criminal defense attorneys can be critical in obtaining an own recognizance (OR release) or ensuring a fair bail amount. We can often argue that an OR release is appropriate, negotiate for lower bail, or request a “Humphrey hearing” to determine whether you're being held due to an inability to post bail. 

Obtaining a bond is quick, but once you secure it, it typically takes up to four hours to be released from custody. As noted, bail bondsmen will post your bail in exchange for a non-refundable premium, which is a maximum of 10% under California law. Thus, suppose your bail is set at $1000,000; you will pay the bondsman $10,000. Contact our law firm for more information. Cron, Israels & Stark is based in Los Angeles, CA.

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