Anyone may be accused – even mistakenly – of committing a crime. We’ll discuss what everyone needs to know about being arrested, posting bail, and obtaining an attorney’s help in this state.
If you are placed under arrest and accused of a misdemeanor or a felony in the state of Washington, the first thing you must do – immediately – is to obtain the services of an experienced Seattle criminal defense attorney.
Whether or not you are guilty or innocent of committing a crime, a sound understanding of the criminal justice system can help anyone who is facing criminal charges to choose the best options.
PRECISELY WHAT IS BAIL AND WHAT IS A BOND?
First, some basic definitions of some key legal terms:
1. “Bail” is the money that a defendant pays to be released from jail while awaiting trial.
2. A defendant’s “bond” is the defendant’s promise to appear in court as scheduled.
HOW CAN A CRIMINAL DEFENDANT AWAITING TRIAL BE RELEASED?
After being arrested and charged with a crime, there are four ways a defendant can get out of jail while awaiting trial in the state of Washington:
1. An O.R. (“own recognizance”) release does not require money and is often the first step in a pre-trial program. Generally speaking, O.R. release is offered only to defendants charged with non-violent crimes who have no prior arrests and who are not flight risks.
2. Cash bonds are typically used when a low bail amount is set for a misdemeanor defendant. The bail amount – minus court fees – is returned, provided that the defendant appears in court as scheduled.
3. Defendants who cannot pay a cash bond may hire a bail company to ensure that bail will be paid to the court. Bail bond companies usually charge ten percent of the bail amount and it is not refundable.
4. Property bonds are rare. With a property bond, the court receives the title to a property and may foreclose on that property if a defendant does not appear for court.
WHAT IS THE BAIL PROCEDURE?
After booking, if the charge is a misdemeanor, a defendant can sometimes be released by paying a cash bond according to a predetermined bail schedule that covers most misdemeanors.
But for most felonies, a defendant has to be arraigned in court before a bail amount will be set. A defendant may then post a cash bond or begin to arrange for a surety bond.
The arraignment is a defendant’s first appearance before a judge. It is imperative for a defendant to be accompanied at the arraignment by his or her defense lawyer.
HOW LONG DO DEFENDANTS REMAIN IN JAIL?
How long a defendant has to remain in jail after an arrest can hinge on all kinds of factors.
For example, in a state like Washington, booking, arraignments, and bail procedures move faster in the smaller towns and jurisdictions.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that in cities like Seattle and Spokane, the system is bigger, more crowded and more bureaucratic, so everything is going to take longer.
Posting a bond in cash will always get a defendant released faster than arranging for a bail bond agent and a surety bond.
WHAT HAPPENS AT A BOND HEARING?
For serious criminal charges, a bond hearing must be conducted. At such hearings, a Washington court will consider these two questions when setting the bail amount:
1. Is the amount adequate to ensure that the defendant will appear in court as scheduled?
2. Is the amount enough to safeguard the public?
Typically, more serious criminal charges – as you might imagine – require higher bail amounts. However, a court in this state may entirely deny bail to a criminal defendant if:
1. The defendant is charged with a capital offense.
2. The defendant currently is on probation.
3. The defendant previously did not appear as scheduled in court.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A DEFENDANT FAILS TO APPEAR IN COURT?
If a defendant fails to appear in court after posting bail, a bench warrant can be issued at that time for the defendant’s immediate arrest. The defendant may additionally be charged with bail jumping.
In the state of Washington, the penalty for a bail jumping conviction depends upon what kind of crime the defendant was originally charged with:
1. If the original charge was a Class A felony other than murder, a conviction for bail jumping is punishable by 6 to 68 months in prison and a fine of up to $20,000.
2. If the original charge was a Class B or Class C felony, a conviction for bail jumping is punishable by 1 to 43 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
3. If the original charge was a misdemeanor, a conviction for bail jumping is punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.
HOW IS THE BAIL BOND BUSINESS REGULATED IN WASHINGTON STATE?
In the state of Washington, surety bonds may only be paid by licensed bail bond professionals.
Those who work in the bail bond business in this state must be United States citizens age eighteen or over with no criminal convictions (at the time of employment by a bail bond company) within the last ten years.
Eight hours of classroom training are required, and a $500 fee must be paid to the Washington Department of Licensing. Regular continuing education is also required.
IF YOU’RE CHARGED WITH A CRIME, WHAT SHOULD YOU DO FIRST?
An experienced Seattle criminal defense attorney is the first person to contact if you are charged with any crime in this state. A defense lawyer can argue for a bail amount reduction or argue to have you released on your own recognizance.
If you are charged with bail jumping in Washington, a defense attorney’s help is imperative.
The penalties that a convicted criminal defendant in the state of Washington may be facing – including jail or prison time – will depend on the details of the crime, the provisions of the law itself, the state’s sentencing guidelines, and the offender’s prior criminal history.
A criminal conviction in this state can take your freedom, devour your finances, ruin your career, and devastate your loved ones.
An arrest, of course, doesn’t necessarily mean that a conviction will follow. The state still must prove a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
If you are accused of committing any crime in the Seattle area, whether you are innocent or guilty as charged, you must have a criminal defense lawyer protecting your rights and fighting for justice – and for your freedom and your future.