Here is how bail works in Pennsylvania: A Magisterial District Judge (MDJ) does determine if you are eligible for bail in Pennsylvania after an arrest. They set bail during your preliminary arraignment, where they will also read your charges, inform you of your rights, and ask you to enter a plea.
If you are eligible for bail, the amount will be determined by the judge. Furthermore, you will be released from jail pending trial if you post bail or hire a bail bond agent.
In This Article
The Pennsylvania criminal defense attorneys at Shuttleworth Law PC offer an in-depth overview of the federal and Pennsylvania bail system, criteria used by MDJs to determine if you are eligible for bail and the associated amount, when bail may be denied, the role of the bail bondsmen, and how legal representation could help. We wrote this post for people arrested on criminal charges in Pennsylvania and their concerned loved ones.
How does bail work in Pennsylvania? Let’s begin with a general understanding and history.
Overview of Bail in Pennsylvania
Bail is something of value that criminal court defendants offer as assurance that they will return to court and answer for their charges after an arrest. The U.S. Constitution does not guarantee your right to bail but outlaws excessive bail terms. At the same time, Pennsylvania’s Constitution provides a right to bail.
The five types of bail recognized under Pa. R. Crim. P. 524 include:
- Type 1. Release On Recognizance (ROR): Signing a written agreement to appear in court
- Type 2. Release on Nonmonetary Conditions: Signing a written contract with additional restrictions on activity
- Type 3. Release on Unsecured Bail Bond: Agreeing to forfeit money for failure to appear or compliance with bail conditions
- Type 4. Release on Nominal Bail: Providing nominal cash bails, such as $5.00 and a signed agreement with a surety
- Type 5. Release on a Monetary Condition: Large cash payment, property bond, or secured bond
The primary purpose of bail is two-fold. First, it allows innocent people to remain free while awaiting trial. Second, it ensures they will appear in court and answer the charges. However, some researchers attribute a reduction in jail overcrowding to the bail, bail bonds, and cash bail systems.
History of Cash Bail
The Pretrial Justice Institute attributes (PDF research) modern cash bail practices of federal, state, and local courts to Anglo-Saxon England (c. 400 to 1100 AD). Instead of jailing people, Anglo-Saxon law imposed sureties on criminal charges, usually equivalent to the potential penalties.
This system incentivized sureties, like early-era bail bondsmen, to a defendant’s appearance at trial while providing financial compensation to aggrieved parties if they fled. The practice continued into Early America as English colonists began settling. While most chartered colonies adopted the system without modification, others amended vital components.
Pennsylvania adopted its bail rules in 1682, which state that “all prisoners shall be bailable by sufficient sureties, unless for capital offenses, where the proof is evident, or the presumption great.” New York State followed suit shortly after that.
The U.S. Constitution of 1776 did not guarantee the right to bail, but it eventually prohibited excessive bail terms. Since then, three weaves of bail reform occurred in 1966, 1984, and 2016, arguing various merits related to presumptive release, dangerousness, and 14th Amendment violations. The U.S. Supreme Court has primarily rejected challenges to the cash bail system.
Criteria for Deciding Bail in Pennsylvania
Bail authorities, such as judges, understand that consideration for bail is your legal right under the Pennsylvania Constitution. However, this condition does not mean that you are guaranteed bail. The judge assigned to this decision will consider relevant factors determining your ability to appear and stay compliant with bail terms.
Among the factors considered include:
- The severity of the offense
- Employment and financial status
- Family relationships
- Residency and ties to the community
- Age, character, and reputation
- Addiction history
- Flight or escape history
- Criminal record
- Use of false identification
- Other relevant factors
The decision to not admit guilt or cooperate in an investigation is not relevant when determining bail conditions per Pa. R. Crim. P. 523. Hiring a criminal defense lawyer can be helpful before attending a preliminary hearing when bail is set. They can attend the hearing with you and argue merits regarding appearances and compliance.
Bail May Be Denied In Some Cases
Bail authorities will set bail in felony and misdemeanor cases unless you face a capital offense. A magistrate judge may deny bail for unusual circumstances when facing a felony if they determine it is the only way to assure a defendant’s appearance in court.
Magistrates typically discharge misdemeanor defendants on ROR at preliminary hearings in Pennsylvania. You agree to appear in court on the stated date and time without posting bail. However, the judge still has the authority to set a monetary or cash bail if they have cause to do so.
The Role of the Bail Bondsman
Bail is not cheap, and total cash bail payments are rare. Many clients seek the help of a bail bondsman, who will post the amount of bail for a small percentage, typically ten percent and up. This percentage represents the bondsman’s service fee, meaning the money is non-refundable. Some bail bondsmen would accept collateral such as cars or jewelry if you cannot pay their service fee.
Bail May Extend Beyond Cash
In Pennsylvania, magistrates can impose additional bail conditions and cash payment. Defendants are usually ordered to avoid contact with any victim and refrain from committing any new crimes. Many offenders are not permitted to use drugs or alcohol.
Defense Attorneys Explain How Bail Does Work in Pennsylvania for You
The criminal justice system in Pennsylvania is challenging to understand. When facing charges, bail is critical for exercising your constitutional rights and preparing your case. An experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney can determine if you are eligible for bail and prepare a motion arguing.
Schedule a Free Case Evaluation with Shuttleworth Law PC
The Philadelphia criminal defense attorneys at Shuttleworth Law PC will argue for your right to bail. We will investigate every relevant aspect of your circumstances, establish the viability of your request, and present our arguments in a favorable light. Find out more about your legal options by scheduling a Free Case Evaluation at (215) 774-1371or message us online.