What happens at a bond hearing?

Attorney Page Pate explains what happens at a bond hearing and how someone can be released from jail pending trial in a serious criminal case




When someone has been arrested and taken to jail, the very first thing they want to do is to get out of jail. And that’s totally understandable.

The good news is, that for most cases, getting a bond and getting released from jail is not going to be a problem. But in some cases, the more serious cases, there may have to be a bond hearing before a bond is set.

What happens at a bond hearing? Well, a bond hearing is like most other evidentiary hearings in a criminal case. There will be a judge, there will be a prosecutor, and there’ll be a defense lawyer. At a bond hearing, the focus is, obviously, should the judge let the person out of jail, hoping that they’ll show back up in court when it’s time for their case to be heard?

When a judge is making that decision, they will usually consider four separate factors. Number one, is this person a significant flight risk? In other words, if I let them out of jail, are they going to show back up to court when it’s time? Secondly, is this person a serious risk of committing other crimes while they’re out on bond? Third, is this person, if I let them out of jail, going to be a danger to the community? And then finally, in some cases, but not all, will this person, if I let them out of jail, threaten or intimidate potential witnesses who may later be called to court to testify about the case? Those are the factors that a judge is going to focus on when the judge is considering whether to grant the person a bond, and if so, how much.

What happens at the hearing is that the prosecutor will usually call the police officer, detective, whatever law enforcement agent was investigating the case, to testify to the judge about the facts of the case as they see. What is the crime that’s been charged? What statements were taken? What evidence do you have? It’s not going to be a full blown trial, but just enough evidence to give the judge a flavor for the case. Is this a low level crime or a very serious crime? Because obviously, that can affect whether there’s going to be a bond, or how much that bond is going to be. After the prosecutor presents that evidence, a prosecutor will sometimes also present evidence from the alleged victims in the case, just to show to the judge that, hey, the person we’ve arrested maybe a danger to the community. Obviously, the people who are victims in the case don’t want him released. And that evidence can sometimes make a difference to the judge.

After the prosecutor is finished with their evidence, then the defense lawyer has an opportunity to present evidence. And any good defense lawyer is going to show up at a bond hearing well prepared, to try to argue for their client’s release from jail. Because in many cases, that bond hearing is going to be the best if not only chance, the person has of getting out of jail before the case goes to trial.

The types of witnesses the defense lawyer usually calls, friends and family, current or former employers, people the person may go to church with or see in the community. The point is that the defense lawyer is trying to show to the judge that the person they’ve arrested has significant ties to the community. This is his home. He’s not going to go anywhere if you let him out of jail. You try to show to the judge that the person has a stable family, has responsibilities, hopefully, has a job to go back to, all of those things can be important to the judge. And it’s not good enough just to tell the judge, the lawyer can’t just stand there and say, “Judge, I’ve heard he’s got a good job or, you know, he represents people in the community and volunteer work. Or, you know, he was a good student.” It is critical, especially if the state or the prosecutor’s trying to deny the bond, to have witnesses in there who actually can talk to the judge. Those witnesses can make a big difference in a closed case, in getting a person released from jail.

Once the witnesses have testified, the prosecutor and the defense lawyer can make arguments to the judge about why bond is appropriate, and why those factors in that particular case, either support the idea of releasing the person or support the prosecutor’s idea that the person should be kept in jail without a bond. In some cases, there will be a right to appeal that bond decision to another judge in that jurisdiction. But it is very important to remember that that initial bond hearing is critical to whether a person’s going to be released from jail or perhaps have to spend many months in custody waiting on a trial.


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