New York Times article
Bail bonds can be expensive. We charge 10%, that’s the lowest allowable fee, by law. Still, that 10% can be more than a normal person can pay. We can take installment payments, but in bad situations, a client may not be able to manage a monthly bill. Our fee is not the end of the financial problems that arise from being held in jail and unable to afford bail; it is only the beginning.
Let’s take a look at legal fees for a moment. Some lawyers will charge a set amount for talking to you in the first place. That could be as low as a couple of hundred dollars, or up into thousands. On top of that, they charge hourly fees for their time, and their paralegal’s work, too.
When a suspect can’t afford the initial amount the court set for bail, their lawyer can file a bail motion later in the pre-trial process, and formally request that the bail bond cost be lowered for extenuating circumstances. The motion may not be successful, or the new amount may still be out of the individual’s reach.
Crafting a bond motion takes the lawyer’s time. His time always equals money. Suppose he charges $250 an hour for his time, and it takes him two hours to build the case for the motion. He hands his notes to his paralegal, and it takes her an hour to type up the material. For the sake of argument, the lawyer’s office charges $100 for a paralegal’s time. That’s $600, but it doesn’t end there.
(Did you know they might also charge their hourly fee for phone calls and emails?)
The lawyer takes the bond motion before the judge. How long does that take? Another hour or two? Add another $250 to $500 to that original $600. Already, extra money has been added to the individual’s bill, beyond the initial consultation fee.
Dollar signs mount, and the money missing from family funds starts to be felt in a big way.
When someone is living from paycheck to paycheck, or is the only member of the household who has a job, his or her family suffers the instant they can’t work. There may not be any savings to rely on, and that most recent paycheck disappears very quickly, because people need food on the table. Worse than that, an employer (depending on company rules, or local laws) can fire someone for absence from work, while that individual is being held in jail…unable to afford bail in order to be at work in the first place.
Like the NYT article says:
“Bail conditions are not supposed to be punitive. They are supposed to impose as little restriction as is needed to reasonably ensure that a defendant appears in court.” That is the spirit of the legal system, but local laws may specify the bail amounts for certain crimes. Those bail conditions could be punitive, depending on the financial situation of the suspect, and the amount of money involved.
The legal world is debating situations where this is the case. We don’t know where the decisions will fall in this discussion, but we hope for an outcome that doesn’t penalize an offender. Fixing the problem might require an overhaul of the legal system as we know it, and that could take a very long time. What we do know is that people should make their voices heard.
Speak to your local government representatives and let them know how punitive bail conditions make you feel. Tell them you believe this hurts innocent family members, and increases the likelihood of more problems in your community. Enough people voicing their opinions can make it clear to elected officials that something needs to be done.
We may never be able to sufficiently impact what lawyers charge for their services, but we can choose legal representation that is more affordable when we have the opportunity. The choice of a lawyer, and the choice of a bail bondsman, who can work with you in your financial situation are vital to the due process of law that you are guaranteed.
Make good choices, and make them informed, with your eyes open.
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