Posted on: 10 September 2015
The dreaded call comes in the middle of the night. It's your loved one requesting your help to get them bailed out of jail. If this isn't the first time you've received this call, or your loved one has been heading down the wrong road for a while, you might be tempted to refuse to bail them out. Because how long could they possibly sit in jail anyway? A few hours, possibly a day? Unfortunately, the answer for some people can be days and even weeks.
The Dangers of Not Posting Bail
Not posting bail can, unfortunately, lead to real trouble. Consider:
- Sandra Bland. In July 2015, Bland was pulled over for a traffic infraction, then charged with assault on a public servant after fighting with the arresting police officer. Bland and her family could not post her $5,000 bail (of which she only needed to be able to pay $500 or 10%), and she was found dead in her cell three days later.
- A man who was arrested for having a straw. According to the New York Times, the police alleged that the straw was drug paraphernalia, even though the man had just purchased a soda. Unable to pay his $1,500 bail and refusing to plead guilty to the "crime," the man, who had a previous record, ended up spending three weeks in New York's notorious Rikers Island jail complex while he awaited trial. He was beat up while in jail and lost three weeks in lost wages. He finally ended up pleading guilty and paying a fine so he could get out of jail, adding yet another mark on his record.
Unfortunately, these incidents are not as unusual as you might think. According to that same New York Times article, approximately 450,000 people are being held in jail before their trials at any given time in the United States. That number includes those that have been denied bail and those who could not afford to make their set bail.
So What Should You Do if You Can't Pay the Bail?
Posting bail can be expensive. And for many families, it may be more money than they have available. So what should you do if your loved one needs bail and you are short on funds? Your loved one can:
- Ask that their bail be lowered. Some states will allow your loved one to make this request at a special bail hearing, while in other states, they might have to wait until their first court appearance.
- Request to be released on their own recognizance. This request, which is a written promise to show up at court at the appointed time, can be made of the judge at the first court appearance.
- Pay a bail bondsman. Once the judge sets the bail amount, you can purchase a bond through a bail bondsman. This bondsman will charge you a fee that is usually a certain percentage of the set bail and will also ask for collateral. The bondsman will then go to court and pay your loved one's bail. This is often the only choice for many families who cannot pay the bail on their own. Your loved one should be aware that if they do fail to show up for court, the bail bondsman will hire a bounty hunter to find them.
Hopefully, you and your loved ones will never have to deal with having to pay bail, but consider this. According to Consumer Affairs, more than 50 percent of American men will find themselves under arrest at least once during their lives. And, as evidenced by Bland's traffic stop, you don't have to be involved in a felony to end up in jail. So knowing your options when it comes to getting a loved one out of jail can be very important and could even potentially save their life.
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