What is Bail? How is bail handled in DUI cases?
Bail is money that is deposited with the court as a way to ensure a person who is charged with a crime returns to court for future hearings in their case. Without bail being imposed, some people who face criminal charges would be tempted to flee or avoid going to court in the hopes that their case would just “go away.” Because they have deposited money with the court, it is assumed they will return to make sure they get the money back. Prosecutors and judges often argue that bail is also used to “protect” the public. This argument is flawed for a number of reasons, and it incorrectly states the law when it comes to bail in criminal cases.
Our bail law comes primarily from California Penal Code sections 1268 et seq. This body of law was developed as a way to ensure the return of a defendant to court if they are facing criminal charges. The idea that a higher bail amount may be required as a way to “ensure public safety” is not a correct notion, but one that is often argued by prosecutors. If the judge reviewing a bail matter determines that the defendant is a public safety risk, the judge can refuse to allow for bail, as opposed to asking for a higher amount than they otherwise would. (It makes no sense, for example, that the public is protected if a defendant has to post $40,000 bail versus $25,000. If the defendant truly is a threat to the public, the judge should deny any bail amount.)
How much is bail in the average DUI case in Los Angeles?
For 1st offense DUI cases, most clients are released on their own recognizance, because the charges are misdemeanor in nature and often do not have aggravating circumstances that warrant additional bail. For 2nd offense cases, the minimum is set in the bail schedule. Often, bail is higher on 2nd DUI cases with accidents or injuries to parties involved because, rightly or wrongly, of a perceived threat to public safety.
The main purpose of bail is to ensure the defendant will return to court to face the charges against them. Actually, this is the only legitimate purpose for a court instituting bail, but often prosecutors and judges insist on bail for reasons of “ensuring public safety” because bail will supposedly reduce the risk of a person committing a new offense.
Behind these “stated” reasons for wanting bail in DUI cases, there is a more cynical view, held by many in the DUI legal field, when it comes to bail. Depending on the charges against the driver, bail can be as low as $0 to as high as $50,000 or more. Often, when I hear prosecutors trying to push bail on a person that clearly doesn’t have money, it appears to be a ploy to keep the person behind bars pending their day in court. While in jail, they are more likely to take any plea bargain that the prosecutor will offer, even if they could get a better outcome should they decide to fight the case. There’s no better negotiating tactic than telling someone “if you take this deal, you’ll be out in a few hours. If you fight your case, you can’t go to trial until February.” This can and does induce plea deals that otherwise wouldn’t have happened if the person was released.