How Do You Get Out of Jail After an Arrest?

Getting arrested is an incredibly stressful, confusing experience, both for the person under arrest and their friends and loved ones. And, once taken to jail, there is probably just one thing on everyone's mind: getting that person back out of jail. So, how is that done?

Generally, one can get out of jail by posting bail. Bail is usually cash or a piece of property pledged to the court as part of a promise that the defendant (the person who has been arrested) will return to court when ordered to do so. In many instances, when the defendant shows up when ordered after being let out on bail, the court will return the bail money/property. Failing to appear, of course, will result in the bail being forfeited, and, most likely, the issuance of an arrest warrant and additional criminal charges.

Sometimes (usually in the case of minor crimes) bail is automatically set and one needs only to pay and wait for the paperwork to process. In most instances, however, the defendant will be required to see a judge before the bail amount is set, meaning at least one night in jail. The Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution establishes that no person can have an excessive bail amount set against them, and many states have constitutional or statutory guarantees about how quickly their bail must be set. The protections of the Eighth Amendment ensure that bail is not used for any purpose other than to guarantee a defendant's return to court on an appointed day and time, and should not be more than is reasonable to ensure that.

Nevertheless, in instances of a substantial flight risk (i.e., that the person will not return to court as directed) or that the defendant poses an unreasonable risk to the public, bail may be set very high or denied all together. Though some would argue that this violates the Eighth Amendment, very few challenges have been successful. If bail is set too high for the defendant to afford, that person can ask for a reduction in bail, though this often means waiting days or weeks for another hearing.

For many, paying the full value of bail is very difficult. In those situations, a bail bondsman may be required. A bond is much like an insurance policy on the return of the defendant. Generally, the purchase price of the bond is about 10% of the value of bail (e.g., if your bail is set at $5000, a bail bond may be purchased for about $500). Generally, the bail bondsman will also require giving some sort of collateral in the event the defendant fails to appear in court. If one fails to appear in court, the bail bondsman also frequently sends a bounty hunter after the defendant to return the defendant to jail and get a return of the bail money paid on the defendant's behalf from the court. The collateral may also be sold to satisfy the debt.

Occasionally, one may be released on their “own recognizance,” or "O.R." In essence, this means that the defendant is considered so relatively trustworthy and of such a low risk of flight that no money needs to be pledged to guarantee their return. In general, in order to be released O.R., one must only sign the necessary paperwork promising to show up at court when required.

If you or someone you know has been arrested, you should contact an attorney at your earliest convenience to determine how best to proceed. An attorney can help you in the bail process and guide you through the rest of the legal proceedings while also helping to negotiate the best possible plea agreement or investigate and defend your case.

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Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws they may affect a case.

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