What is Bail?

If arrested, what are the available release options?

There are five release options available: cash bond, surety bond, property bond, own recognizance (O.R.), and citation release.

  • Cash Bail Bond:
    To be released on cash bail, someone must post with the court the total amount of the bail, in cash. The purpose of this is to secure his or her return to court on an appointed date, and thereafter until the case is concluded. If the defendant shows up for his/her scheduled court appearances, the cash is returned to him/her. If s/he fails to appear, the cash bond is forfeited to the court.

  • Surety Bail Bond:
    An alternative to cash bail is the posting of a surety bond. This process involves a contractual undertaking guaranteed by an admitted insurance company having adequate assets to satisfy the face value of the bond. The bail agent guarantees to the court that they will pay the bond forfeiture if a defendant fails to appear for their scheduled court appearances. The bail agent's guarantee is made through a surety company and/or by the pledge of property owned by the agent.

  • Property Bail Bond:
    In rare cases an individual may obtain release from custody by means of posting a property bond with the court. Here the court records a lien on property, to secure the bail amount. If the arrestee subsequently fails to appear at the scheduled court date, the court may institute foreclosure proceedings against the property to obtain the forfeited bail amount.

  • Own Recognizance (O.R.): Another method of release pending trial is through a county or law enforcement administered pre-trial release program. Usually, the staff members of these programs interview individuals in custody and make recommendations to the court regarding release of these individuals on their own recognizance (i.e., without any financial security to insure the interviewee's return).

  • Citation Release:
    This procedure, known as the "Cite Out", involves the issuance of a citation by the arresting officer to the arrestee, informing the arrestee that he or she must appear at an appointed court date. The Cite Out usually occurs immediately after an individual is arrested. Such an arrestee's appearance in court depends exclusively upon the integrity of the arrestee and his or her voluntarily returning to court.

How Bail Works

The Criminal Case Process

Generally, when a person is arrested, the police officer submits an arrest report to the district attorney for review. If arrested, you should take the following steps: "Six Steps to Follow if Arrested: A Survival Guide". The DA will review the case and if he or she feels that the officer has sufficient proof of the crime, charges will be filed and the case will be ready for prosecution.

At this point, the defendant has five release options. Once released, he will have to appear in court for an arraignment (usually 2- 4 weeks from the date of release). If the defendant remains in custody, he will be transported to court by the county or city facility in which he is detained.

The Arraignment

In criminal cases the first appearance is the arraignment. The defendant will be asked to acknowledge his identity. The defendant may have private counsel present or the court may appoint a public defender. The defendant may be told his possible punishment.


  • If charged with a misdemeanor the defendant is required to reply to the written charges with a plea of either guilty, not guilty or nolo contendere (no contest).  The judge will set the defendant's tentative appearance schedule. Bail is established according to the county's bail schedule. The defendant has a right to argue for a bail reduction. If the defendant pleads guilty at the arraignment, the judge may sentence him or her at that time.

  • If the defendant does not plead guilty at the arraignment, a pre-trial conference will probably be scheduled at which time plea negotiations are discussed along with witnesses and strengths/weaknesses of the case.

  • The next step is the trial (by judge or jury) at which pretrial motions and issues of fact are decided.

  • If the defendant is found guilty the court will then impose a sentence on the defendant that could range form a fine, community service, counseling, jail time, a diversion program, substance abuse treatment, or a combination of these.

Felony Cases

  • If charged with a felony, the defendant may or may not be required to reply with a plea at the initial arraignment. (The policy of presenting a plea at felony arraignment is different state-by-state).

  • As a next step, the judge may set the defendant's preliminary hearing. (Not all states have preliminary hearings, some convene a grand jury to find probably cause.)

  • As with misdemeanors, bail is established according to the county bail schedule. The defendant has a right to argue to bail reduction.

  • At the preliminary hearing, the D.A. will show the court that there was probably cause to believe that a crime was committed and that eh defendant was the person who committed the crime. If the judge feels that there is enough preliminary evidence to proceed, then the defendant will be arraigned again and there will be a pre-trial conference at which time plea negotiations and discussions of the issues, witnesses and strengths and weaknesses.

  • As with misdemeanors, the next step is trial by judge or jury where all of the pretrial motions and issues of fact are decided.  If the defendant is found guilty at the end of trial, then the judge would impose a sentence, usually much more severe than with a misdemeanor offense.

Bail FAQ's

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