What is a Bail Schedule?

Mary McMahon

A bail schedule is a set of uniform guidelines to assist judges with setting bail when prisoners are brought to court for arraignment and bail hearings. Paying bail allows people accused of crimes to go free before and during their trials. If the person does not comply with the terms of bail, the judge can issue an arrest warrant and order confinement until and during the trial, considering the accused a flight risk. Sums can be quite large and many people receive assistance from a bail bondsman, a person who provides the payment in exchange for a security in the form of a percentage of the total.

If the person does not comply with the terms of bail, the judge can issue an arrest warrant.
If the person does not comply with the terms of bail, the judge can issue an arrest warrant.

Bail schedules provide a mechanism for fairness and consistency. The judge considers the crime the person has been charged with and any extenuating circumstances, and uses the bail schedule as a guideline. Some judges follow the schedule exactly, while others may exercise some discretion to adjust amounts up or down. They must be careful to avoid setting an unreasonable bail, such as an absurdly high sum for a minor crime.

Judges must also determine if a person is even eligible for bail. A person who appears to be a flight risk would not be a good candidate, as the person may be willing to forfeit the bail or leave friends and family with the responsibility for making up the sum to repay a bondsman. For very serious crimes, the judge may not allow the accused out of jail. Prior history could be a consideration along with safety; in some cases, for instance, a person may actually be in danger if released, and the jail will provide some security.

Each court sets it own bail schedule. The guidelines can be very detailed, addressing a wide variety of infractions, along with various circumstances, like whether the accused or victim is a minor. If a precise charge cannot be found in the guidelines, the judge can turn to the bail schedule for similar types of crimes to get an idea of how much to ask for. Bail schedules may also provide a quick thumbnail guide of basic bail amounts on the basis of how many years the accused could spend in prison if the court decides to convict on the basis of the evidence.

Courts make the bail schedule available to members of the public and people can review the document for information. If there are concerns about the fairness of a bail amount, referring to the schedule may provide some useful information. People can also compare and contrast the outcomes of bail hearings for similar kinds of charges if they suspect a judge may have acted with discriminatory intent.

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