The first time you’re taken in for driving under the influence (DUI), it’s likely that you’ll get a chance to post bail. If you’re denied bail in Pennsylvania, the bail authority must state the reason for the denial. In any case, you should understand exactly what bail is and how the process works.
In Pennsylvania, a first-time DUI offense is charged as an ungraded misdemeanor – which generally carries a lighter penalty than a felony. An aggravated charge generally counts as a felony – which carries a stiffer penalty than a misdemeanor.
Pennsylvania is one of seven states that doesn’t generally elevate an aggravated DUI charge to a felony. However, under certain circumstances, the charge can count as a felony. Those circumstances include when serious bodily injury or death occurs from a related accident. This is important because it plays a role in the bail bonding process.
Bail is similar to the “get out of jail free” card in the game of Monopoly – except in the real world bail usually costs money.
Bail is set after you’ve been officially charged, and police officers are ready to release you from custody.
It’s important to understand that paying bail doesn’t mean your case is over – especially in the case of a DUI. By agreeing to pay bail, you agree to appear in court on a specific date and time.
It’s also possible that you’ll have to wait to post bail until after a judge has heard your case. Depending on the severity of the charges, you might remain in jail until a formal hearing or arraignment. At that time, a judge might decide to set or deny bail.
According to Rule 524 of the Pennsylvania crimes code, there are five types of release on bail:
1. Release on Monetary Condition – You have to pay an agreed upon amount of money in order to meet bail. The amount should be a reasonable amount. For example, a $100,000 bail for a first-time DUI offender might be deemed unreasonable – especially if there wasn’t an accident or any fatalities. The more serious the crime, the more money you can expect to pay.
2. Release on Nonmonetary Condition – This type of bail includes certain conditions in addition to a specific sum of money. Conditions might include restrictions on your travel, social interactions or behavior. For example, the court can prevent a possible flight risk from leaving the city, state or country. A flight risk is a person that has the means to or is likely to leave town in an attempt to run from justice.
3. Release on Recognizance (ROR) – No money is necessary with this type of bail because bail isn’t set. You have to sign a written statement stating that you agree to appear in court on the specified date. You also must refrain from all criminal activity, and keep all court dates as agreed.
4. Release Based on Unsecured Bail Bond – No upfront payment is necessary for this type of bail. You sign a document agreeing to pay a certain amount if you fail to show up for your future court date. For instance, failing to keep your court date might cost you $1000 or some other form of security.
5. Release on Nominal Bail – You must deposit a specific amount of cash to secure your release. You may also obtain an individual, bail bondsperson or organization to guarantee your appearance in court on the agreed upon date.
If you’re unable to pay your bail in cash, you will possibly have the option of using a credit card, bail bondsman or bail agency. A bond is a guarantee that you’ll appear in court as agreed.
You acquire a bail bond through an agency, and the agency charges you a percentage of the bail amount. For example, consider a $1000 bail.
If an agency charges 10 percent and covers you for a $1000 bail, then that means you have to pay them $100 for their services. You also might have to provide some other form of collateral, such as your house or car for more expensive bail.
If you fail to appear in court as agreed, the bail agency or bail bondsman has the legal right to pursue you and return you to the authorities. If you’re not found, then the bail agency or bail bondsman is responsible for 100 percent of your bail. Normally, when you appear in court as agreed, you or the person that paid your bail gets the money back.