How is Bail Set?

Greg Hill
April 5, 2013 — 1,854 views  
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It is easiest to think of bail as money one must give to the court in order to leave jail.  The money is used as collateral to ensure one appears as ordered in court.  If one does not appear, the court keeps the money.

The money at issue is usually not deposited with the court.  Instead, a bail bond company pledges to pay the full amount if the defendant does not appear.  The defendant pays a non-refundable portion of the amount, a maximum of ten percent, to a bail bond company.  Less than ten percent is often set when the defendant is represented by counsel, a union member, or a government employee.  

One can also deposit the full amount of bail with the court in cash (or via a cashier's check, traveler's check or personal check), although this is rarely done.  If this is done, the full sum is refunded to defendant at the end of the case if he misses no court appearances.  A refund is made sixty to ninety after case is resolved, less any restitution and fines ordered paid.  Resolved is defined as the case ending in a plea bargain, the defendant being committed to custody (jail or prison), the defendant entering a PC1000 drug diversion program or the court declaring defendant incompetent to stand trial.

A third method of posting bail is through a property bond.  Under this method, the court is given a lien on your property for the bond amount.  If you fail to appear in court, you forfeit the bail and the court can institute foreclosure proceedings on the property to satisfy the lien.

The amount of bail required depends on the severity of the crime, as well as enhancements such as using a firearm during the alleged crime, having a prison prior within the last ten years and prior sex offenses when the crime at issue is another sex offense.  Bail also varies by county.  Each county in California has its own bail schedule for each type of offense.  For example, in 2012, felony domestic violence has a bail amount of $50,000 in Los Angeles and Orange County, but in Kern County, bail for the same offense is $25,000.  Every few years, a group of judges reviews the bail amounts for each crime and changes the amounts as they see fit.

Bail is initially set by the police, but a judge can review the amount set when requested by a defendant.  Bail, for example, cannot be so high that it has the practical effect of barring the release of a defendant, although this often is exactly what happens to many poor defendants.  Likewise, theoretically, bail should be increased from the bail schedule amounts when the defendant is quite wealthy and paying the bail amount does not guarantee his or her return to court.

A judge is guided in setting bail by considering the public's safety if an individual is released on bail.  Defendant's threats to a witness, for example, may be considered on this issue.  A judge should also consider the defendant's ties to the community in, for example, the residences of his family, his employment situation, his involvement in the community (church, youth activities, clubs) and his ability to

If the prosecutor or judge believes that you posted bail by illegal means, you could be charged with a violation of Penal Code § 1275.1, itself a felony.  For example, one may consider bail a "business expense" and direct that bail be posted from bank robbery proceeds. The suspicion of this is most commonly aroused when a defendant posts the full amount of bail in cash.

If one fails to appear in court, the court will issue a bench warrant for one's arrest (Penal Code § 1305).

Greg Hill

If you are charged with domestic violence, contact Greg Hill. He is an attorney in Torrance, California and a U.S. Naval Academy graduate (B.S., 1987), Boston University graduate (M.B.A., 1994) and Loyola Law School graduate (J.D., 1998). Greg Hill & Associates represents clients in Torrance, Long Beach and the surrounding areas in DUI, domestic violence, drug offenses and restraining orders, among other crimes. Visit the firm's website at or the firm's Facebook page at