The Ultimate Bail and Criminal Law Guide

Most Americans have received a citation for minor infractions. Those “tickets” are annoying, but not life-changing. An arrest, on the other hand, can change the course of your life. As any criminal law guide will tell you, an arrest and conviction could result in:

  • Imprisonment: Felonies are usually classified as crimes that are punished with one year or more in jail while misdemeanors are crimes that are punished with less than one year in jail. Even a misdemeanor like shoplifting or driving without a license can result in jail time.
  • Fines: Judges routinely impose fines as a deterrent to future criminal activity. Moreover, while they do not like to admit it, fines are usually added to a city or county general fund and used to pay the salaries of police and judges as well as general expenses incurred by the city or county. As a result, fines are an important source of revenue to some jurisdictions.
  • Restitution: If the charges include allegations of harm to others or damage to property, you could be ordered to pay restitution. Restitution is intended to compensate the victim for your alleged crime by covering their medical expenses and repair bills.
  • Criminal record: A criminal record, even if you are arrested and the charges are dropped, can follow you for the rest of your life. It can be used by employers, landlords, and even banks to deny you job offers, rental homes, and loans.
  • Registration: Some offenses, such as sex offenses, will require you to register as an offender for the rest of your life.

With such stiff penalties, criminal defendants cannot afford to make any mistakes in defending themselves. Here is a bail and criminal law guide with eight steps to take if you are ever arrested:

Stay Quiet

Every criminal law guide begins the same — stay silent. While it can be tempting to try to explain yourself when you are questioned or arrested, keep in mind that police officers and other law enforcement officials are not neutral arbitrators of the law. They are trying to make a case against you and if you speak, you could just give them more information that can be used in their case.

You will get your chance to tell your side of the story. However, unless you are an experienced criminal attorney, you do not know the elements of the crime you are being charged with. Moreover, you often are unaware of the facts law enforcement has relied on to build its case. By speaking, you could inadvertently fill in the gaps of their case or even admit to something that they were previously unaware of. Worse yet, something you say could be misconstrued and end up creating problems with your defense.

As affirmed in the U.S. Supreme Court case called Miranda v. Arizona, you have a right to remain silent. This means that the government cannot force you to speak. Moreover, the government must warn you that anything you say can be used against you. This ensures that you do not inadvertently make a statement when you have a right not to.

Call a Lawyer

When you are questioned or arrested, every criminal law guide agrees — ask for a lawyer. You have a constitutional right to legal representation, even if you do not have the money to hire one. However, there are reasons to put together the money to hire a criminal defense lawyer rather than using a public defender, including:

  • Public defenders are often overworked. This means they often do not have a lot of time to devote to your case.
  • The public defenders office usually does not have the resources to investigate your case thoroughly and might miss some important facts necessary for your defense.
  • Public defender jobs are often viewed as entry-level and you might be assigned a lawyer who is inexperienced.

Criminal defense lawyers serve an important role in our justice system. When you are arrested, a criminal defense lawyer can:

  • Safeguard your constitutional rights: A criminal defense lawyer knows the rules that govern how law enforcement investigations can be conducted. Consequently, when law enforcement breaks those rules when investigating a crime, such as conducting illegal searches or using coercion to extract a confession, the lawyer can bring the wrongdoing to the attention of the judge.
  • Provide advice: Your criminal defense lawyer can explain your legal options and provide legal counsel so you can pick the option that fits your goals.
  • Advocate for you: Whether your lawyer is arguing against law enforcement or prosecutors, your lawyer is on your side and takes the necessary steps to advance your case.
  • Negotiate on your behalf: Law enforcement and prosecutors often overcharge crimes to give themselves negotiating room. Criminal defense lawyers can use their knowledge of the law to try to get an outcome that is fair rather than bowing to the heightened charges filed against you.
  • Provide you with experience: An experienced criminal lawyer who knows prosecutors, judges, bail bond companies, and therapists can often come up with options that inexperienced lawyers might miss. In some cases, these options might save you time and money that more than make up for an experienced criminal defense lawyer’s fee.

Find an Affordable Bail Bond Service

A bail and criminal law guide would be incomplete without a detailed discussion of bail. The purpose of bail is to provide you with a way to be freed while you are awaiting trial while still providing the court with some assurance that you will make all your court appearances.

Under the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment, the court is prohibited from requiring “excessive bail” or imposing cruel or unusual punishment. As a result, bail will be granted in almost all cases unless the court finds that the defendant is a danger to the community or poses a flight risk.

If you do not post bail, you will have to wait for trial in jail. Even though the U.S. Constitution guarantees a speedy trial, court backlogs can mean a wait of several months or even a year or more for your trial date. If you have to spend this entire time in jail, you could lose your job and home, even though you have not been convicted of anything.

This unfairness has led to a movement to abolish cash bail. However, for now, bail is required in most states for your release after an arrest, meaning that you will need to find an affordable bail bond service to avoid waiting in jail for your trial.

Post Bail

This bail and criminal law guide addresses something that most articles miss — the nuts and bolts of posting bail. As a practical matter, bail is simply property that you give to the court until your trial. As long as you make all your court appearances, your property is returned. If you fail to appear in court, your property is forfeited and a warrant is issued for your arrest.

In minor cases, the bail might be low and you might be able to post cash bail. In more serious cases, however, bail might be several thousand dollars. When bail is too high for you to post cash, you can get assistance from a bail bond company. A bond is a promise by the bail bond company to the court to turn over the bail amount if you miss any of your court appearances. The way that a bail bond works is:

  1. You pay the bail bond company’s fee. The fee is usually a percentage of the bail and provides the bail bond company with some assurance that you are serious about following the conditions of your release.
  2. You post some collateral that the bail bond company can attach if you fail to appear as ordered by the court. Collateral can include personal property, like the title to your car, or real property, like the deed to your house.
  3. You might be required to provide a co-signer who is responsible for making sure you do not flee and has property that can be attached if anything happens to your collateral.
  4. Make all your court appearances. If you fail to appear, you will lose your collateral, your co-signer could lose their collateral, and you will have bounty hunters on your tail to track you down and take you to jail. If you make all your appearances, your collateral will be released even if you are convicted.

Follow All Your Release Conditions

The next step of this bail and criminal law guide is to follow all your release conditions. After your bail bond agent posts your bail, the judge may impose conditions on your release.

For many people facing criminal charges, these conditions should be easy to follow. They usually include:

  • Stay away from any alleged victims.
  • Do not mingle with known accomplices.
  • Do not leave the state without notifying the court.

Occasionally, your release might come with more stringent conditions. For example, you might be required to surrender your passport so you cannot leave the country legally. In cases where the court is especially concerned about your likelihood of appearing in court, you might even be required to wear a GPS ankle bracelet.

If you violate your release conditions, you could be arrested. Depending on the seriousness of the violation, a judge might look very unfavorably on releasing you again and may revoke your bail.

Do Not Get Arrested Again

It might seem too simple to include in a criminal law guide, but while you are out on bail, do not get arrested again. Unfortunately, once you have been arrested, you have a target on your back. The likelihood of another arrest might be high, depending on the original charges.

For example, even if you hire a DUI attorney and plan to fight the charges, being arrested for a DUI can result in automatic suspension of your driver’s license. If you continue to drive after your arrest, you could be arrested for driving on a suspended license.

Similarly, if you are arrested for domestic violence, many states grant an automatic protective order to alleged victims. If you are caught at a victim’s house or place of work, you could be arrested, even if you were invited by the victim.

Under normal circumstances, getting arrested is stressful. However, getting arrested while you are on bail for other charges can be catastrophic.

  • Your bail could be revoked.
  • The later charges might be upgraded to felony charges if you did something you knew you were not supposed to do.
  • You might not be granted bail for the later charges because you might be deemed a danger to the community.

Follow Your Criminal Defense Attorney’s Advice

While you prepare for trial, talk to your lawyer about strategy and make sure your lawyer has all the facts of the case. Your communications with your criminal defense attorney are protected by attorney-client confidentiality, so your lawyer cannot disclose anything you discuss.

During this time, your lawyer will be one of the few people you can have complete and frank discussions with. You can help your lawyer develop your defense and your lawyer can be your criminal law guide to understand your charges.

At some point, your lawyer may hear from prosecutors about a possible plea deal. A plea deal is an agreement in which you plead guilty to a charge in exchange for the prosecutor’s dismissal of other charges or recommendation at sentencing. These deals save the prosecutor the time and expense of a trial, and they save you from the risk of a harsh sentence.

Although your lawyer negotiates with the prosecution for a deal, you make the ultimate decision whether to accept the deal. Once you accept the deal, you will be expected to live by it. This means that you will have to serve any jail sentence and pay any fines based on the prosecution’s sentencing recommendation.

Serve Your Sentence

Do whatever you can to make sure all the parts of your sentence are completed. If you need to report to jail, show up. If you have to pay fines, pay them. If you are put on probation, comply with your probation agreement. If you do not, a warrant will be issued for your arrest and you will have to start the process discussed in this bail and criminal law guide all over again.

Worse yet, as a repeat offender, you might have a more difficult time getting a judge to grant bail and, if you absconded, bail bond companies might charge more to issue bail bonds for your release. You might be unable to garner any sympathy from prosecutors for a reduced sentence. A jury might be reluctant to give you another chance if you squandered your prior chance.

On the other hand, if you serve your sentence fully and pay your debt to society, you might never need a bail and criminal law guide again.

Being arrested can be the low point of your life. Society stigmatizes criminals and the prospect of losing your job, losing your home, and even losing your family over an arrest can be disheartening.

However, hiring a law firm to guide you through the process and defend you vigorously can help you get through the process with a minimal impact on your future. As your legal advisor, advocate, and defender, a good criminal law attorney is sometimes the only way to avoid paying for your arrest for the rest of your life.