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How Judges Calculate and Set Bail

For those of us with limited experience with the legal justice system, the bail setting process can often be hard to comprehend. How do judges actually calculate and set bail for individuals who are arrested for allegedly committing a crime? This process can seem complicated and arbitrary to those unfamiliar with it, but the truth is that there is a relatively standardized method for calculating and setting bail amounts. Before discussing the factors used in these calculations, it is beneficial to understand the bail process.

Bail Process Overview

Bail is the method by which the court hopes to insure that an individual accused of a crime will make an appearance in the courtroom after arrest and not flee the area. Typically, upon arrest, an individual is brought before a judge for a determination of the bail dollar amount. A lawyer is not required at this stage because the individual’s innocence or guilt will not be addressed in this forum.

When discussing the bail process, it is important to note that, in some cases, the judge will deny bail altogether if the nature of the alleged crime is severe enough or the defendant has a lengthy arrest record or record of fleeing the area before trial. However, if bail is granted and the amount is determined, defendants will then undergo the remaining processing actions for the arrest.  They will be given the opportunity to post the bail amount themselves or arrange to have it posted by a family member or bail bond seller, if able. Then, once the individual is released, they will wait for the arraignment date of their case.

Factors Affecting Bail Amount

So, what factors do judges look at when they determine the amount of bail set for an alleged crime committed by an individual? Although bail amounts can vary widely due to the specific nature of the crime, judges will initially consult what is known as a bail schedule. The bail schedule provides general guidelines which judges use to help them make an appropriate determination of the dollar amount to set for the defendant’s bail. However, it is important to note that this bail schedule is only a general set of guidelines. Judges may raise or lower bail amounts based on multiple additional factors.

In addition to the bail schedule, judges will factor in the nature of the alleged crime as well as any additional circumstances surrounding the crime which the judge feels are pertinent. Judges may even consider information related to the defendant’s prior arrest record, financial status, standing in the community, as well as other factors deemed important in their final calculations.

If a defendant has been previously arrested for a crime, a judge may seek additional information about the nature of the crime especially if the defendant failed to appear when called to court. In addition to this “flight risk,” bail amounts can be affected by a defendant’s criminal status. Specifically, if they are on probation or parole from a prior crime, the judge may elect to significantly raise the amount of the required bail.

Automated Bail Calculations

Like nearly every other aspect of life in the modern age, technology is having a significant influence on the way bail is set. In some areas of the country, a computer program is able to quickly assist a judge in setting an appropriate bail amount for a defendant. This program incorporates information such as the defendant’s criminal history, age and type of crime allegedly committed in order to assess flight risk. The program then recommends a bail amount to the judge. Ultimately though, the responsibility to set an appropriate bail amount rests solely on the judge.