The amount of bail is usually set by the judge hearing your case. Judges do not do so arbitrarily, however. Most states have what is called a bail schedule, where a range of the amount of bail is provided depending on the charges that are brought. Typically, the heavier or the more serious a charge is, the more expensive the bail. Bail schedules are usually determined on a state level, and can vary from state to state.
It is important to remember, however, that bail schedules are not set in stone. Judges have a wide range of discretion on what the final amount of the bail will be, depending on a variety of factors. A judge can raise or lower the amount of bail, sometimes even deny bail altogether to a defendant even if the charges brought against him is considered bailable.
Some of the factors that a judge takes into consideration in setting the final amount of bail include:
- Whether the defendant is a flight risk
The purpose of bail, after all, is to guarantee the defendant’s appearance in court during his scheduled hearings. If it appears to the judge that there is a high risk that a defendant will skip out on his bail, not appearing for court, maybe even skip town, then he can raise the amount of bail as an additional incentive for the defendant not to leave town. It is assumed that the defendant will be more inclined not to jump bail if the amount of bail money that will be declared forfeit if he does is also higher.
- Whether the defendant poses a danger to the community
It sometimes happens that a defendant may pose a visible danger to the community, such as a penchant for drinking or driving, or for aggressive behavior against other people. The judge will then be more inclined to keep the defendant in jail rather than allowing him to roam free in the community, where he may commit another crime. A judge can therefore either raise the amount of bail or deny bail altogether if it seems to be best for the interest and safety of the general public.
This determination is made based on the evidence given against the defendant, the charges brought against him, the circumstances surrounding those allegations, the defendant’s conduct and criminal history, and the likelihood that the defendant will likely commit a crime if released. In such an instance, the safety of the public is given a higher value over and above the right of a defendant to be released on bail.
A Judge’s Discretion
This may seem like a great amount of power handed to a judge in determining a person’s right to liberty, and the price of that liberty. But judges are judges for a reason, and they hold their position with a full awareness of their responsibility to uphold the law and to see that the court processes continue unhindered as much as possible. It is also part of their job to assess a defendant’s likelihood of criminal conduct based on their appreciation of the defendant’s character, speech, history, and conduct. It is part of a judge’s job, after all, to sift through competing claims to determine the truth of a matter as closely as possible, which means that they have experience in determining whether a person is lying or not, and whether a person is more or less likely to skip bail, or to commit further infractions of the law if released from jail. This is why judges have a wide latitude and discretion in modifying the amounts set in a bail schedule to determine bail amounts for each specific case.
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