Compassionate And Zealous
Advocates In Hazleton

How does bail work in Pennsylvania?

On Behalf of | Aug 31, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

Almost everyone who gets arrested in Luzerne County wants to get out of jail as soon as possible. But you may have to post bail before you can go home and start searching for a defense attorney.

Essentially, bail is a financial promise that you, as the defendant, will attend all pretrial hearings and your trial itself (if necessary) in exchange for being out of custody. It is also an acknowledgment that as a suspect, you have not been convicted of a crime and are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

How bail is set after an arrest

After being arrested, a suspect will go before a magisterial district judge (MDJ), who will determine whether to set bail, release the suspect on their own recognizance or order them held in jail until their case is resolved. Both the prosecutor and defendant (or their defense attorney) will make their case for whether bail should be set and for what amount. Factors that the MDJ will consider include:

  • The severity of the alleged offense
  • The defendant’s employment and financial status
  • The defendant’s ties to the community
  • The defendant’s criminal record, if they have one
  • Whether they have a history of flight after being assigned bail in prior cases

Pennsylvania law gives the MDJ five options:

  • Release on recognizance, which means the defendant is released after signing a document promising they will show up to court.
  • Release on nonmonetary conditions, which imposes further restrictions on the defendant, such as where they can live and with whom they can associate while their case is pending.
  • Release on unsecured bail bond. The defendant can put up the amount of cash ordered by the MDJ, which they agree they will forfeit if they violate the MDJ’s terms or fail to appear.
  • Release on nominal bail. The defendant pays a small amount in bail and signs an agreement with a surety.
  • Release on monetary conditions, which requires the defendant to pay a large cash bail or put up a property bond or secured bond.

In addition, the defendant can be denied bail in some cases, such as when they are charged with a capital offense or the MDJ believes keeping them in jail is the only way of guaranteeing they will appear in court.

Most people cannot afford to post a high bail on their own, which is where bail bondsmen come in. A bail bondsman posts bail for the defendant, who pays the bail bondsman a small percentage of at least ten percent. Keep in mind that the higher the bail is, the more a bail bondsman earns.

Cash bail is controversial because it seems to favor defendants with significant financial resources over those struggling with poverty. But it is still the policy in Pennsylvania and most other states.

Help fighting for reasonable bail

You are entitled to an attorney’s help at every stage of the criminal law process, including at the bail phase. Your lawyer can speak with the police and prosecutor about reaching a reasonable bail amount or even possibly letting you free on recognizance. They can also represent you at the hearing and explain why the MDJ should not set an excessive bail.