Anytime a person is charged with a crime, other than by citation, a magistrate will set a pretrial bail or bond. This is done at the arraignment – i.e., when you are first taken before a magistrate, informed of the nature of the charge(s) against you, and further informed of your rights.
The primary purpose of pretrial bail is to secure the appearance of the person charged at later hearings. The purpose of pretrial bail is not to punish. Bail acts as a security for the appearance of the criminal defendant to answer for a specific criminal charge. Bail set at an amount higher than is reasonably calculated to fulfill this purpose is considered excessive under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
There are a number of factors that a magistrate can take into consideration in setting bail, including:
- The nature of the crime charged and its punishment
- The previous criminal record of the defendant
- His or her financial ability to post bond
- The probability of his or her appearance
- The strength of the evidence against the accused
- The defendant’s character, means, standing, age, and appearance
- The costs to the State for keeping the individual incarcerated
Additionally, there several different ways in which pretrial bail can be posted. Depending on the circumstances, a magistrate may release a defendant on his or her own personal recognizance, commonly referred to as a PR bond. This means that no money or other security is posted for the bail. Rather, the defendant is released on his or her promise to appear later. Often, a magistrate will require some type of security for the bail. This can be in the form of cash, property, or a bondsman.