Bail is one of the most underappreciated aspects of the criminal justice process in Philadelphia. It will determine whether a defendant has to stay in jail until their trial, or if they can go home and live their life until their big court date.
As the coronavirus spreads, it's beginning to make courts and judges very aware that their bail decisions matter. Bearing in mind that Pennsylvania courts were ordered to remain closed until at least April 3rd, here's how the pandemic can affect bail in your court case.
How Bail Works in Pennsylvania
Every county has its own set of rules, but the big picture remains the same: A judge can require that you post a certain amount of money in order to be let out of jail while your case is pending. The idea behind bail is that it requires you to comply with the terms of your release – which include staying out of trouble, staying away from any alleged victims, and showing up to all of your court dates – or else you'll lose the money that you posted. If you don't violate the terms of your release, you get the bail money back.
Judges look to a variety of factors when they set the amount of bail you have to post in order to be released for trial. These are:
- The severity of the offense – felonies are far worse than misdemeanors for bail
- Your criminal history
- Whether you have a job that you would likely lose if you were kept in prison
- Any family or children who depend on you
- Your age
- Your reputation in the community
- Whether you are a flight risk
Additionally, courts can take stock of other circumstances, as well.
Coronavirus Can Change How Judges Set Bail
The spread of coronavirus can be one of those circumstances that impact how a judge sets bail.
People are becoming more and more concerned about the huge potential for COVID-19, more colloquially known as the coronavirus, to spread rapidly if it gets into the prison population. The close confines of prison make it impossible to practice the “social distancing” that is necessary to stem the virus' spread. Prison guards and officials are fully aware that they won't be able to handle the disease. If an infection gets in, it would spread rapidly with inmates as well as staff members, guards, and visitors.
This has led some cities and counties to release hundreds of prisoners considered to be high risk for getting coronavirus.
The danger of staying in jail can be used to influence the bail proceedings. Defendants accused of a crime – especially a misdemeanor – can request a manageable bail amount because of the risk of getting infected while behind bars. Elderly defendants and those who have compromised respiratory systems are especially eligible.
Criminal Defense Lawyer Joseph D. Lento Serves Philadelphia
Staying out of jail while your case proceeds through the court process has never been more important than it is now. It could literally be a matter of life and death if you are not able to post bail, thanks to the coronavirus.