Because how high or low bail may be can determine whether a defendant can return home while defending against his or her criminal charges, rather then remaining in custody, it is important to understand what factors will be considered by Pennsylvania courts when a person's bail is set. Knowledge is power, and having this knowledge will allow the strongest arguments to be made by the defendant's attorney to get the lowest bail possible.
How are the Pennsylvania bail standards determined?
The question of what amount of bail may be appropriate is answered by applying the bail standards set forth in the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure. In addition, a fixed bail for a certain offense is not allowed under the Rules.
For example, and in light of the above-referenced prohibition against fixed bail or some variation, it was determined by Pennsylvania courts that the Court of Common Pleas in question could not impose a per se rule which required the posting of $100 bail for every defendant who elected to appeal a summary conviction. This concern was addressed in the case of Commonwealth v. Mitchell, 242 Pa.Super. 543, 364 A.2d 406 (1976).
What factors will be considered in the setting of a person's bail in Pennsylvania?
The Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure require that in setting pre-verdict bail (bail before a verdict is imposed), the defendant's bail must be such as to insure the presence of the defendant as required by the bond. The Pennsylvania Rules also state that a defendant's bail must be determined according to the following bail standards:
- The nature of the offense charged and any mitigating or aggravating factors that may bear upon the likelihood of conviction and possible penalty
- The defendant's employment status, history, and financial condition
- The nature of the defendant's family relationships
- The length and nature of the defendant's residence in the community, and any past residences
- The defendant's age, character, reputation, mental condition, and whether the defendant is addicted to alcohol or drugs
- If the defendant has previously been released on bail, whether the defendant appeared as required and complied with the conditions of the bail bond
- Whether the defendant has any record of flight to avoid arrest or prosecution, or of escape or attempted escape
- The defendant's prior criminal record
- The defendant's use of any false identification
- Any other factors relevant to whether the defendant will appear as required and comply with the conditions of the bail bond.
In weighing the bail factors specified in the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure, Pennsylvania courts must also consider that modern police methods of detection, including the exchange of photographs, fingerprints, DNA, and related considerations, are a deterrent to a defendant's flight from prosecution in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties.
When can a person be released on one's own recognizance in Pennsylvania?
A person who has been accused, but not yet convicted of a criminal offense in Pennsylvania, may be allowed to be released from custody prior to the trial without being required to post a bail bond. The accused individual provides the court with a formal written statement, which declares that his failure to appear will precipitate payment to the court of a specifically indicated sum of money. This is known as a being released on "one's own recognizance," or personal recognizance.
Per Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 524, a defendant in Pennsylvania must be released on nominal bail or his or her own recognizance (ROR) if:
- the most serious criminal offense charged does not carry more than a three-year sentence;
- the defendant lives in Pennsylvania;
- the defendant poses no threat of physical harm to himself or others; and
- the issuing authority or court has reasonable grounds to believe that the defendant will appear as required. (Regarding Philadelphia bail matters, and depending on at which stage of the criminal process bail is being addressed or re-addressed, the "issuing authority" can be either the bail commissioner or a judge sitting in the Criminal Division of the Philadelphia Municipal Court or the Court of Common Pleas. Regarding bail matters in most Pennsylvania counties, the issuing authority will most often be a magisterial district judge, but in some instances can be a Court of Common Pleas judge.)
It should be noted that in court cases when the most serious offense is punishable by a sentence of imprisonment of more than three years, the issuing authority or the court has the authority to release the defendant on his or her own recognizance (ROR) or on nominal bail, although such release is not required and bail may be set a higher amount.
Philadelphia Attorney for Bail Hearing | Lawyer to Reduce Bail in Pennsylvania
If you or a loved one has been arrested and charged with a crime, make no mistake, the initial setting of bail can mean the difference between sitting in jail, sometimes unfortunately for months, or being able to go home to be with family, return to work, and to fight the charges from the best position possible - out of custody.
Whether bail is being initially set or needs to be lowered in Pennsylvania, be it in Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Berks, Lancaster, Lehigh, or Northampton County, contact attorney Joseph D. Lento today.