Getting Out of Jail is NOT Free: Learning about Bail

If you have been arrested for a serious criminal offense in New Hanover County, it’s likely that you will be spending some time in jail awaiting trial. Of course, nobody enjoys lingering in jail, and you will desire to get out as soon as possible. Your freedom isn’t only precious in itself, but it’s also enormously valuable in allowing you to assist your own defense before trial.

As a general rule, though, law enforcement officials don’t swing the jailhouse doors open for the person who has just been arrested. You have to get permission from a judge to leave prison—and that means the matter of bail will come up.

What is bail?

You may remember from your middle school civics class that the U.S. Constitution mentions bail. The Eighth Amendment says, “Excessive bail shall not be required,” and that provision applies to persons charged with either federal or North Carolina offenses.

Bail is an arrested person’s pledge of cash (or, occasionally, some other valuable property) given to the court as a guarantee that you will return to custody of the court when ordered to do so. If you follow through on your promise, the court will return the property or money to you. If you fail to show up when ordered, the court gets to keep what you have pledged and will order you arrested again.

It should be obvious from the intentions behind bail that the amount or value of the bail may often be substantial, in order to compel some people accused of serious felonies in North Carolina to return to custody. Often, coming up with the sum for bail is beyond the resources of the arrestee. This has led to the creation of the private bail bonds industry. The accused criminal will pay a bail bondsman a fee—usually 10 percent to 15 percent of the bail amount—and the bondsman will pay the full bail to the court. That fee is not returned later.

The amount of your bail

The judge will take a number of factors into account when setting the amount of your bail. In North Carolina courts, your bail may be influenced by:

  • The seriousness of the charges against you.
  • Your previous criminal history.
  • Your ties to the local community.
  • The perceived risk that you will flee the jurisdiction, hide, or fail to appear when summoned.

The prosecutor and defense attorneys are allowed to present arguments to sway the judge’s decision on setting bail. In the end, the judge will make one of three decisions about bail for your North Carolina criminal case:

  • Release on personal recognizance. If you are accused of a misdemeanor offense and the judge finds little risk that you would flee, you may be released on recognizance (R.O.R.) or on an unsecured bond. Both of those phrases mean the court trusts your promise to return, and sets the bail value at zero.
  • Cash bond. The judge establishes a dollar amount of bail. If you wish to be released from jail, you will either have to deposit the full bail amount in the form of cash or a cashier’s check from a bank with the court’s official. The judge can also combine a specific bail amount with other restrictions for your release, such as restricting your travel out of the area, forbidding you to contact or associate with certain persons, or requiring you to be at home during certain hours.
  • Denied bail. There is no constitutional right to bail. If the judge believes that releasing you, the defendant, from jail would pose a danger to other people or would involve too great a risk that you would flee justice, she may refuse to permit bail in your case.

Get an ally for your bail hearing

A North Carolina criminal defense lawyer can be essential in securing a favorable bail decision when you are facing felony charges in Wilmington or nearby counties.

The bail strategy attorneys at Speaks Law Firm know how to persuade a judge to give you terms you can live with—and to allow you to be an active partner in your own defense from outside a jail cell. Call us today at our local number, 910-341-7570, or toll-free at 877-593-4233. Give us a chance to show how we can plan a strategic defense against your criminal charges.

R. Clarke Speaks
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Trial Lawyer and Founder of Speaks Law Firm, P.C.