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What Is a Bail Hearing?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
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  • Last Modified Date: 28 August 2014
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A bail hearing is a court proceeding in which a judge determines whether an accused person qualifies for a bail release, and what the terms of that release will entail. The major priorities of a bail hearing is for the judge to decide whether the defendant presents a danger to the community, whether he or she is considered a flight risk, and what bail terms are appropriate for the crime alleged. In many regions, a bail hearing is a legally required procedure, considered a major component in due process of the law.

There may be a lag of weeks or months between a formal accusal and a criminal trial. In such cases, it is often considered illogical or even unduly punitive to detain a defendant who has not been found guilty of a crime. A bail hearing is the process that allows for the defendant to be released until his or her trial date.

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One question important to the outcome of a bail hearing is whether or not the defendant qualifies for bail. A judge must be willing to believe that the defendant will not harm the community or commit crimes while on bail, will not run away, and will not interfere with legal proceedings, such as by intimidating witnesses. If a defendant fails to convince a judge on any of these key issues, bail may be denied and the defendant held until the trial begins. Factors that may affect a judge's decision on qualifications during a bail hearing may include the defendant's prior criminal history, the nature of the crime, behavior while in custody, and the presence or absence of violence in the alleged crime. Certain crimes may allow a judge to deny bail outright, but these regulations vary heavily based on jurisdiction.

The second function of a bail hearing is to allow the judge to set the terms of the bail, if the defendant successfully qualifies for relief. If the judge has no doubts that the witness will return for the trial or act legally in the meantime, and the offense is minor, he or she may be released with a simple promise to return and abide by laws. With minor children or incapacitated adults, the court may make a third party, such as a guardian, responsible for returning the defendant to the trial. Other conditions for release might include protective orders to stay away from witnesses or crime victims, a promise to avoid alcohol or drugs, and an agreement to attend parole meetings or counseling sessions.

If the judge has some doubts, or the offense is significant, a monetary bail level may be set. This may be met using cash, property liens, or a combination of the two. If the defendant does not have any assets that can be used to meet the bail, he or she may be able to obtain a surety bond from a bail bondsman.

A bail hearing provides the defendant and his or her lawyers with the opportunity to influence bail conditions. Using witness testimony, written statements, or evidence of strong ties to the community, a defense team can build a case for minimal bail requirements. While a bail hearing is not a chance to prove innocence, it can be an chance to show the court that a defendant is reliable and not a threat to anyone. A well-prepared bail hearing presentation can greatly reduce the amount of money required for bail.

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