If you get arrested, could you make bail?
For a lot of people, the answer is, “Probably not.”
Judges routinely order bail in the vast majority of criminal cases — but many defendants sit in jail waiting on their trials anyhow because they can’t afford it. Even coming up with the percentage of bail that a bail bondsman will take in order to offer the court bail on your behalf could be a struggle.
Pre-trial release programs, or “cash bail” systems, are under scrutiny in several states — including, now, North Carolina. For many defense attorneys, reform to the current system can’t come soon enough.
Poor defendants are routinely unable to meet bail, while defendants of more ample means can often return to their lives while the slow wheels of justice turn in their cases. Essentially, this creates a class system that punishes the poor with imprisonment for being too poor to afford bail even for non-violent offenses.
Take, for example, two people charged with identical misdemeanor charges. One is able to afford bail, one isn’t. The one who can afford bail is able to return home, remain employed, maintain his or her home and care for his or her children. He or she may never receive any jail time at all, especially for a first offense.
The person who can’t afford bail, on the other hand, may sit in jail for weeks or months, lose a job, lose a home and have his or her children pushed into foster care. It doesn’t matter if the defendant is innocent or guilty, because the punishment will be severe anyhow.
The North Carolina Courts Commission is starting to gather more data about the need for changes to the state’s cash bail system. They expect to present their findings to lawmakers in 2019. Plus, a pilot program is being introduced in Jackson and Haywood counties that will encourage police officers to use a summons in place of jail for non-violent offenders with no history of failing to appear at court.
Until reforms happen, however, defendants will have to continue to struggle with the system that’s currently in place. If you’ve been arrested for a crime, talk to a defense attorney about your rights as soon as possible.