Bail By The Numbers

If you've been arrested, what are the chances that you'll show up for court? This question lies at the heart of the bail process, which allows those charged with crimes to get out of jail while awaiting their day in court. Being able to get bail is a huge benefit for the accused, since you can go back to your family, work at your job and take a greater part in planning your defense for trial. The odds of you getting bail depends on several complicated factors, so read on to learn more about what makes a judge grant bail.

How bail is usually set

Prosecutors use a series of factors when determining the possibility of bail, such as:

  • What crime (or crimes) you are charged with committing.
  • Your criminal history and how compliant you may have been with returning for your court date in the past.
  • Your age, job, and education level.
  • Your community contacts, such as family.

The problem with this method

The factors used vary widely, depending on the prosecutor's wishes; there are no clear-cut standards. This makes the granting of bail quite subjective, and the results are difficult to quantify. In other words, there have been no studies done about what factors may make a defendant more likely than not to show back up for their court dates. This also means that you may be either be denied bail or given a punitively high enough bail that you may as well have been denied it altogether. Your criminal defense attorney may argue for bail or for a lessor amount, but you may also be stuck in jail for the duration.

Using the scientific method

Some progress has been made to address the apparent arbitrariness of the above method of setting bail. New systems and programs that assign a defendant a score are beginning to come into use across the country, with proponents touting the relative improvement in the "fairness" of making the bail decision based on numbers instead of personal facts. The system uses the past history to create a database of defendants, their crimes, and other information and correlates those facts with whether or not the defendant appeared for court as ordered. The resulting algorithm assigns a score that allows those in charge of determining bail to use a more scientific method of making the call, since it relies on real past data.

The problem with the algorithm-based method

One glaring point of concern with using this method is that the data used may not be "good" data. Minorities and the poor take up a disproportionately large measure of those arrested, and there are concerns that the data is skewed to discriminate.

Speak to your criminal defense attorney about your chances for bail as soon as possible.