Many lawmakers are beginning to attempt to take action in reforming the inequalities of the traditional practice of granting bail to defendants awaiting trial for criminal charges.
This system was designed to allow criminal defendants to remain free until their trial so they can fulfill their obligations to employers and family, but it promotes a separate justice system for the rich and poor who are charged with the same crimes.
How does the bail system work?
In theory, the bail system is supposed to ensure that a defendant will appear in court for their trial after being released until their trial date. By posting a financial bond to the court, the defendant must appear for their trial or lose their bond money.
In theory, the amount of the bond is set according to the severity of the crime, the defendant's criminal record, and the flight risk, or the chance the the defendant will flee rather than appear in court.
However, bond is often set by guidelines that are based mostly on the crime, rather than on the defendant. This allows a defendant with deeper pockets to remain free, while those of modest means remain jailed until trial.
How do defendants without money post bail?
Bail bonding services will post the bond for a defendant of modest means for a fee of usually 10 percent of the bond, which is non-refundable, even if the defendant is found innocent of the crime.
This puts economically challenged defendants in even worse financial straits than before they were charged with a crime.
Some individuals cannot even pay the fee for the bail bondsman and must languish in jail for months before trial. This may cause them to lose their jobs, homes, vehicles, and ties to family.
It is often the case that a poor defendant that is charged with a lesser crime will remain incarcerated for the same length of time as the sentence they would serve if found guilty.
They may then plead guilty to the charge, guilty or not, so they can be released without waiting for their day in court. This adds a criminal record to the barriers they must face when released.
How can bail reform work to ensure equality?
Recent measures by lawmakers have tried to place the focus on flight risk and past criminal behavior when bail is decided, allowing judges to base bail on the individual, rather than following guidelines. However, these decisions would still be arbitrary and decided by the same people who have been accustomed to the traditional system.
A better system would eliminate bail altogether to create a fair and equal justice system that values the lives of the rich and poor in equal measure and recognizes the devastation of incarceration before trial for poor defendants.
Under this system, career criminals and those likely to reoffend if released, rich or poor, would be prevented from causing harm to the public , while innocent defendants and those guilty of petty crimes or acts inconsistent with their usual lives will not be punished unfairly.
Until reforms are passed, a good criminal defense attorney is the only hope for defendants to get a bail reduction or to be released without bail. For help with your case, contact a lawyer at a law firm like The Fitzpatrick Law Firm.