If you or someone you knows is facing arrest, a natural concern is whether you will have to stay in jail while you wait for your court date. Here are five things that the Court will care about in considering to let you out.
Your Arrest Charge Matters
Why does law enforcement seek your arrest? As you can imagine, if they are looking for you because of a minor offense (such as trespassing), you’ve got a better chance at getting bond than if you’re wanted for a violent offense or sexual charge.
In fact, the Virginia Code maintains a presumption against bond for a whole host of charges. They include certain violent offenses, charges that carry a possible maximum sentence of life in jail or the death penalty, various drug and firearm charges, as well as numerous sexual offenses. For a complete list, check out Virginia Code Section 19.2-120.
Keep in mind that the presumption against bond can be rebutted. However, if you’re facing a serious offense, being granted bond is by no means a guarantee.
What’s more, the actual facts of your charge matters. Take for example, the charge of assault. In Virginia, assault can be simply spitting on someone (or even less). In other instances, it can involve true violence against another. The Court will certainly consider the nature of the allegations against you, possible defenses, as well as other details of your case.
Your Criminal Record Matters
This is another factor that’s pretty logical. Those with cleaner records (or better yet, no record) will be looked upon more favorably by the Court for bond.
The nature of your record also matters. Let’s use the charge of assault again. If you’ve been charged with assault, and you’ve got prior assault convictions, you better expect the Commonwealth (the prosecutor) to argue that you have a “violent nature” and that you’re not suitable for bond.
Obviously, each case is different. But prosecutors are creative and will use your record against you. They will try to tie in prior convictions as evidence that you are a danger to the community and must either be denied bond or given a high bond to ensure that you will come back to court and not commit further violations of law.
Your History with the Court Matters (Have You Missed Court Before?!)
Another factor that Courts consider is whether or not you’ve failed to appear for prior court hearings. If you’ve failed to show before, the prosecutor will argue that you are a “flight risk,” and cannot be trusted to return.
However, this may be an opportunity for those of you with “complex” criminal records to turn your record into a positive - that is assuming that you’ve not missed court before. If you’ve had several required appearances, and always show up, my argument to the Court is “Judge, he’s shown that he’s not a flight risk, he has proven his willingness to come back when ordered.”
Where You Live Matters (Location and Network)
What I mean by this is do you have a lot of “local connections” or “ties to the community?” Are you from Fairfax, been here your whole life, and live right down the street from your mother, three cousins and grandfather? If so, great.
The reason a good local network is important to the Court is because, first, it tells the Court that you’re sticking around. Obviously, if you’re from out-of-state, it’s less likely that you’re coming back for your court date. Second, it tells the Court that you have a good social network to keep you in check while waiting for your court date. If you’re living with your grandmother, for instance, you’re likely going to have a bit more accountability for your actions rather than if your entire family is in Utah and have no idea what’s going on in your life.
Clearly, these are just generalizations the Court uses about people. But our judicial system is an imperfect one. To best your odds of bond, it’s better to know the rules of the game and take advantage of them rather than wasting efforts considering if they are fair. You can write your local Senator once you are out on bond.
The Money You Have Available Matters
While this is likely the most “unfair” factor, it is indeed a factor to consider. For serious charges, the Court (if it grants bond at all) may set a very high bond. While bail bonding companies are available, you still have to pay a percentage of the bond in order for a bondsman to help you out. So your finances may take a hit.
If you have no available funds, ask friends or family, and (if possible) have that arranged prior to being arrested. It’s harder to make that call from jail.
Now, it’s possible that a Court may consider lack of funds in determining what level of bond to set. But it’s not a consideration you want to depend on, if at all possible.
Now these rules are not science. Every case is different, every prosecutor is different, every judge is different, and every county is different. But these factors will certainly be considered. If you’re facing charges where bond is an issue, you need to hire an attorney (or if you can’t afford one, ask for appointed counsel.) It will make that attorney’s job so much easier (and in turn increase your likelihood of getting out) if you consider this list and be prepared with information the attorney and Court can use to find why you are absolutely suitable for bond.