Written by Stryder Wegener
When a person faces charges for a criminal offense, it’s not uncommon for them to be given the option to pay a money bail that releases them from jail until their court date. The amount of bail can vary widely, and it’s often unaffordable for many people. If you are worried about the amount of bail you might face at your arraignment, call a criminal defense attorney right away. At Emerald City Law Group, we can represent you in court and fight for your right to a reasonable bail amount.
What is Bail?
At arraignment, you will hear a formal breakdown of the charges against you. The judge will determine if you should be held in jail until your trial, or if you can be released on your own recognizance. If you are being held in jail, you may be given the option to pay money bail, so you can go home until your trial starts. This amount is determined based on many factors, including:
- The seriousness of your charges
- Your past criminal record
- How likely you are to flee town
The judge may also consider your mental health and past behavior. For example, if you do not have a criminal record, but you have a history of alcohol or drug abuse, you may be considered a threat to society and held on bail.
Bail Amounts are Often Unaffordable for Low-Income Inmates
Bail amounts are not set in stone. Prosecutors may request a certain amount, but the judge will make the final decision to accept the prosecutor’s suggestion or amend the amount. Although Washington law requires judges to consider the financial prospects of the person accused, they don’t always do so. As a result, people with lower incomes struggle to pay their money bonds, and are forced to remain in jail while awaiting their trial.
Data provided by a Seattle Weekly report shows that 75 percent of the average 2,124 inmates held in King County jails are simply awaiting trial. Some of these inmates are being held without bail, while others cannot afford to pay their money bail amounts. Not all bail amounts are six figures; some are as small as $500. A wealthy person, or even one with a moderate income, can pay the $500 or $1,000 money bail without much trouble. But to an inmate who has no financial resources or is homeless, $500 is an exorbitant amount.
How Bail Affects Inmates in King County Jails
This seems to be a problem for many of the inmates in King County jails. The Seattle Weekly study found that a whopping 60% of inmates included in a sample of defendants were homeless. These are people who, unfortunately, often have criminal records including bench warrants for many hearings at which they failed to appear. But judges don’t always take into consideration the defendant’s financial circumstances, or the fact that they are homeless and therefore unable to keep track of their trial dates. Instead, they review what looks like a long rap sheet and often set a high bail, citing their criminal history.
While money bail will likely not be removed entirely from Washington State, people are in favor of changing the system. Reforming bail, however, means amending the state’s Constitution. This would mean gaining approval from a majority of the state’s legislature, plus a go-ahead from voters.
Call a Seattle Criminal Defense Lawyer for Help
Money bail is merely one stressful aspect of an impending criminal trial. If you are facing criminal charges, you need to obtain legal representation immediately. At Emerald City Law Group, we will immediately begin working on your case and fight to protect your rights. Contact us at 206-973-0407 today to schedule a free case consultation.