Changes to Bail in Philadelphia Criminal CourtsApril 25, 2018
After an arrest, many people worry about being sentenced to time in jail after a conviction or guilty plea. However, people charged with criminal offenses may spend a significant amount of time behind bars even before conviction simply because they cannot afford to pay the amount of cash bail set by the judge.
Prosecutors often request cash bail to help provide assurance that defendants will show up to court if released before trial. If defendants fail to appear for pre-trial hearings and trial, they can forfeit their bail. Unfortunately, prosecutors often request cash bail as a matter of course, even when defendants are not flight risks or dangers to the community, resulting in Philadelphia having one of the highest pretrial jail populations in the U.S.
Earlier this year, however, the new District Attorney of Philadelphia, Larry Krasner, announced a new policy under which prosecutors would no longer request that judges set cash bail for defendants charged with specific offenses. D.A. Krasner stated it was “not fair” to set unaffordable bail for defendants who posed no risk and that the office would no longer “imprison the poor for poverty.” Offenses for which the D.A.’s office no longer plans to seek cash bail include:
- Access device fraud
- Possession of marijuana
- Possession of marijuana with the intent to deliver (less than five pounds)
- Burglary with no person present (not overnight)
- Criminal mischief
- Possession of contraband
- Driving under the influence
- Identity theft
- Retail theft
- Trademark counterfeiting
- Resisting arrest
- Unauthorized use of a motor vehicle
- Theft from a motor vehicle
- Receiving stolen property
- Giving police false identification
- Theft using deception
- Fraudulently obtaining public benefits or food stamps
- Possession of drug paraphernalia
Some defendants charged with possession with intent to deliver other controlled substances besides marijuana may also avoid having to post cash bail, depending on circumstances such as the amount of drugs and whether the defendant has prior convictions and arrests.
Instead of requesting that a judge set cash bail, prosecutors will now seek one of three options:
- Release on personal recognizance, which requires the defendant to promise to appear in court in writing.
- Release on signed bond, which requires the payment of bail only if the defendant violates the terms of release.
- Release on other specified conditions.
Not only will these pretrial release policies keep people from languishing in jail, people charged with offenses will also be able to keep up their jobs and other responsibilities while their case is being resolved.
What if You Do Have Bail Set?
While the new cash bail policy is the first step in bail reform in the Philly area, there are many offenses for which cash bail will still be requested. In such cases, it is imperative that defendants know their rights and have the right legal representation.
Both the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of Pennsylvania give you the right against excessive bail. Unfortunately, judges often set bail higher than necessary, which may be more than you can afford. In such cases, a skilled defense attorney can represent you at a bail hearing and make arguments in favor of having your bail lowered. Ways that an attorney can try to have your bail reduced or eliminated include:
- Argue that you are not a flight risk due to your job or connections in the community.
- Argue that you are not a danger to the community or public safety.
- Present other mitigating factors that support your release without bail, or on lower bail.
A bail hearing is only one of many steps in a Philadelphia criminal case. However, it is critical to whether you will spend the pretrial process in jail or will be able to return home. Because criminal cases can last months—even years in some situations—the bail hearing is extremely important. If the court releases you, you will not have to be separated from your family and your reputation will not adversely affected by spending time in jail for months, even without being convicted of a crime.
Contact a Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer to Discuss Your Case
The legal team at the Zeiger Firm stays apprised of all new developments in Pennsylvania law and new policies of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office so that we can provide the best criminal defense representation for each one of our clients. If you have been arrested for any offense, please do not hesitate to contact our office online or by calling 215-546-0340 today.