Understanding How Bail and Bonds Work in Missouri
No one likes sitting in jail. Often there is a great amount of anxiety for alleged defendants awaiting a decision on bond. Although it is seldom in your control, it is important to understand how judges set a bond, and how to be subsequently released on bail. Once arrested, an individual will be brought before a judge within 24-48 hours after the time of their arrest. At this point, the individual will be arraigned, which is a formal hearing to inform the defendant of the charges against him. After arraignment, the judge will typically conduct a bond hearing to address bond conditions and set a bond amount. In some jurisdictions, the arraignment will be separate from the bond hearing, but this depends on preferences of the judge. Some judges will conduct a bond hearing directly after arraignment.
How is Bail Set?
Under the United States Constitution, bail is a foundational right and can only be denied in select, limited circumstances. Further, the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires that bail not be excessive. In other words, the bail must be set in accordance with the crime and cannot be used to merely raise money for the government. Further, bail cannot be used as a punishment to keep someone in jail, nor can it be used in any other way rather than procuring the future appearance at one’s court date or to protect the community. Remember, all of us are innocent until proven guilty, so we all have the right to remain free until convicted. It is antithetical to the criminal justice system not to grant bail to one who retains their presumption of innocence.
However, like most things in law, there are exceptions to the rule. Bail can be denied for mainly two reasons. First, if the individual is a danger to the community. This could be reflected in the crime they are charged with (such as a high-profile murder case), or if the defendant has a history for violence. Second, bail can be denied if the defendant poses a flight risk. Those who have a track history of missing their court dates and failing to appear in court when they are ordered to, will be viewed negatively by the judge, and may be denied bail altogether. The judge ultimately wants the case to move forward, and if a defendant repeatedly fails to appear, the case cannot move forward.
A judge can also put restrictions on your bail, such as equipping you with GPS monitoring, placing you under house arrest, undergoing drug treatment, seeking employment, and/or avoiding certain people and places. These are known as conditions of bail and must be followed exactly as the court orders, or you risk bail being revoked. Although these measures sound extreme, there is still hope for a lighter release. If your alleged crime is minor and you do not have a long history of failing to appear, the judge may order what is known as an ROR, or a release on your own recognizance. This is basically a release upon your own signature as a promise to attend your court dates. This is the least stringent measure and is seldom given for dangerous offenses.
Nonetheless, even if the judge requires bail, the judge may not make the bond excessive. Bond is the monetary amount set by the court which will require some financial payment from you. The court is allowed to consider factors such as current employment, local residency, community ties, and previous criminal history.
How to Meet Your Bond:
If you meet your bond in full, that money will be returned to you once you have appeared at all your court dates. However, bonds are usually set at such high a rate that it makes it very difficult to obtain the entire amount. At this point you have two solid options. One is to obtain an attorney (if you have not already) and consult your attorney about setting a special bond hearing to reduce your bond. This might be a tall order since the judge will have his mind made up, but your attorney may bargain for GPS monitoring or house arrest and in return a lower bond. Understand that this process will take time. Thus, you will have to stay in jail longer to await your new bond hearing as judges (and attorneys) carry a full docket. Many cases also require a period of time to notify any victims of the crime that a hearing has been requested to address bond conditions.
However, if this fails or your attorney advises against it, you can consult with a bail bondsman. Bail bondsmen carry advantages as well as some disadvantages. For one, a bail bondsman will be able to front money to the court to secure your release almost immediately, but you will have to pay them a nonrefundable fee, which is typically 10 percent of your entire bond amount. Also, depending on your situation, the bondsman will expect collateral in case you miss the court date. This could be handing over jewelry or even your car. If you fail to show up, a warrant will be issued for your arrest. If a warrant is issued, your bond amount will be forfeited to the court and your bond agent will be responsible for the remaining amount. It is in your best interest to appear at your court dates, because, if not, the bond agent has the authority to detain you and bring you to the authorities.