In Pennsylvania, as in many other states, cash bail may be necessary for those arrested and charged with a crime. If someone does not want to await their court date while in state custody, they will likely need to pay the court a certain amount of money set by the judge who arraigned them for their charges. How much they have to pay depends on their criminal background and the current charges.
The point of bail is to compel someone to return for their court proceedings when they face criminal charges. The money serves as a deposit. Releasing them from state custody on bail requires that they return for court if they want to recoup the amount paid in bail.
Reform activists in Pennsylvania and elsewhere have worked to put an end to this system to make the criminal justice system more fair and equitable.
Why is the cash bail system under scrutiny?
The obvious issue with the cash bail system is that it puts an unfair burden on those who live paycheck-to-paycheck or who support their families.
Wealthy individuals can easily afford cash bail amounts, while those without savings or major assets may have no choice but to sit in state custody for weeks or even months while waiting for their day in court. They forgo any income they might have earned during that time and could rack up substantial expenses while in state custody.
Being able to afford cash bail says nothing about whether a defendant will present themselves for trial as ordered in arraignment.
What is the alternative to requiring cash bail?
When a judge releases someone without requiring cash bail, they released that person on their personal recognizance. Essentially, the judge expects that the person will arrive for their day in court because of their ties to the community, like a family or a job. Especially when the crime is not a violent one, forgoing cash bond may reduce the burden on the defendant in the case.
Understanding what happens after an arrest and how the courts will approach the release of someone accused of a nonviolent offense can help you secure your own release or assist a loved one after an arrest.