Bail is set by a judge at the first or preliminary hearing after a defendant is arrested. There is no jury in a preliminary hearing. At this hearing, a future trial date will be set for weeks or maybe months later. A judge will decide if a defendant needs to stay incarcerated until their actual trial or if they may be released. If the defendant is released, the judge will usually set a bail amount.
Bail is the property or money given as collateral that the person released from custody will return at an appointed time. Judges do not need to insist upon bail, however, neither are they obligated to grant it. Bail is usually communicated in dollar amounts. This collateral or surety amount is set at the judge’s discretion, though some jurisdictions have consistent amounts that correspond with the charges that are made against a defendant. Sometimes there is a separate bail hearing held to determine this amount.
There are several circumstances considered when a judge decides on a bail amount in addition to the severity of the charges. If the defendant is considered dangerous to the community or prone to run from the allegations, the bail amount will increase. Whereas, defendants with ties to the community, no prior criminal record and gainful employment are seen as more likely to attend trial and have a lower bail requirement. Bail can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Regardless of the trial verdict, the bail money or property is refunded once the defendant successfully appears in court. Fines or fees may be subtracted but even a guilty defendant is entitled to be refunded his or her bail money.