In 2017, Georgia had one of the highest percentages of unsentenced jail inmates in the country. Almost half of county prisoners were simply waiting for their day in court. This figure is a bit deceptive, because inmates who were on their way out the door were counted as “unsentenced” like everyone else. Nevertheless, reports like this one spurred action.
These actions included an expanded pretrial release program and a streamlined bail reduction hearing system. These changes, which are examined in detail below, were especially pronounced in urban areas, like Cobb County, where jails are usually full. Some people feel these reforms have gone too far and created a revolving-door justice system in Georgia, at least as far as pretrial release is concerned. But that’s the subject of another blog.
Prompt jail release is the secret weapon of a Marietta criminal defense attorney. For personal and other reasons, many incarcerated defendants accept the prosecutor’s first offer, no matter how unfavorable it is. Defendants who are out on bail have much more freedom to choose. And personal freedom is the reason a criminal defense lawyer fights so hard for you. Government is generally good, but government also tends to overreach.
The Constitution’s Eighth Amendment guarantees reasonable bail in criminal cases. “Reasonable” is an extremely broad word. So, Cobb County uses three basic mechanisms to fulfil this requirement.
Authorities arrest a significant number of people for theft, drug possession, and other entirely nonviolent crimes. A few other offenses, such as stalking and disorderly conduct, are technically nonviolent, at least as far as most authorities are concerned. Pretrial release, or OR (own recognizance) release, was created with these offenses in mind.
Additional qualifications usually apply. Chief among them is the requirement of a squeaky-clean criminal history record.
Meeting the minimum qualifications may not be enough. Generally, a review board has the final say as to what defendants are entitled to OR release. Basically, pretrial release reduces a criminal offense to the level of a traffic ticket, at least for pretrial detention purposes. When people sign traffic tickets, they promise to appear in court. Likewise, if an eligible defendant promises to appear in court, the review broad grants OR release. These individuals must also normally follow a few other rules. More on that below.
Presumptive Cash Bail
Very few inmates qualify for OR release, given the strict rules outlined above. So, prompt jail release usually means cash bail, or more likely, a surety bond.
Normally, the county sheriff sets a presumptive cash bail amount when defendants are arrested. This presumptive amount is usually based on the defendant’s criminal record, if any, as well as the severity of the charged offense. As a rule of thumb, the presumptive amount is usually about $750 for a misdemeanor and $1,500 for a minor felony.
Occasionally, the sheriff doesn’t set a presumptive amount. Multiple criminal charges and serious criminal charges, such as murder or rape, are the two most common scenarios. A judge normally sets bail at the arraignment in these situations.
Pragmatically, cash bail is like a rental property security deposit. If you return the property in good shape, you get most of the money back. Likewise, if cash bail defendants comply with all conditions of bail, they get most of their money back when the case ends.
In addition to showing up for trial, pretrial release usually involves some generic conditions, such as remaining in the county, reporting to a supervision officer, and staying out of trouble with the law. Jail release may also involve some offense-specific conditions, such as an ignition interlock device in a DUI case, or a no-contact order in a domestic battery case.
Roughly a third of Americans do not have the cash to pay a $400 emergency expense. So, fifteen hundred dollars for bail in a felony case might as well be fifteen million dollars. If the cash bail amount is prohibitively high, a surety bond is usually an option.
Essentially, a surety bond is like an insurance policy. If Samir buys fire insurance and his house burns down, his insurance company bears the financial burden. Similarly, if Samir buys a surety bond and he doesn’t fulfil the aforementioned conditions, the bonding company assumes the financial loss.
Most bonding companies charge about a 15 percent premium for these bonds. These premiums are nonrefundable.
As mentioned, presumptive bail usually considers only severity of the offense and criminal history. That’s a very narrow sample size.
Incidentally, criminal histories increase presumptive bail amounts in Cobb County. But there is some evidence that defendants who have been through the system before are less likely to get scared and run away. In other words, criminal history should have the opposite effect on presumptive bail amounts.
Anyway, if the defendant cannot initially make bail, or the sheriff doesn’t set bail, a Marietta criminal defense lawyer can advocate for the defendant during arraignment. At this point, the judge considers many other factors when setting or resetting bail. Examples include the defendant’s ability to pay, the defendant’s ability to flee the jurisdiction, and the amount of evidence against the defendant.
Jail release kickstarts a successful defense. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Marietta, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. Convenient payment plans are available.