Virginia Criminal Law: Bail, Bond, and Recognizance

One of the things that people charged with a crime for the first are shocked by is the possibility that they may have to stay in jail until their trial date. In Virginia, trial dates can be several months away depending on the Court’s schedule and your lawyer’s availability. You could spend as much as three (3) months in jail awaiting a trial on an offense which may otherwise carry a jail sentence of only five to ten days.

However, there is a process of applying for something known as bail. Bail is the process of getting released from jail while you await your trial. Bail includes several conditions such as bond and restrictions on your rights.

Bond is a financial arrangement you enter into with the court system whereby you are released pending trial in exchange for setting up a financial promise with the court.

Sometimes it is a good idea to request bail. Sometimes bail is a bad idea. You may not even be eligible for bail.

So what is bail, what are the types of bonds you have to post to receive bail, how do you know if you should ask for bail, and how do you ask for bail?

The Bail System in Virginia

As discussed above, bail is the process where you ask the court to release you through a financial arrangement with the court. The purpose of bail is to have a financial obligation hanging over your head that will force you to comply with the terms of a court order. For example, you may need to post a bond with the court to be released pending trial to make sure you appear for trial. If you fail to appear for trial, you may forfeit your the bond.

Virginia law defines your rights to bail in Virginia Code §19.2-120. Under that law, a person who is held in custody pending trial or hearing for an offense, civil or criminal contempt, or otherwise shall be admitted to bail by a judicial officer unless the court believes that they will not appear for trial or that the person may be a danger to himself or others.

In order to obtain bail and be released pending trial, you will likely need to post something known as a bond, which a financial promise to pay money to the court in the event that you do not appear. There can also be other restrictions on your bail, such as conditions not to leave the state.

Types of Bond

There are several different types of bond in Virginia. The type of bond that you need depends on the type of case you are involved in. Common examples of bond include a purge bond (which is used in child support cases), a cash bond (which is paid directly to the court for release), an unsecured bond (which allows you to leave jail without putting any money up), and a secured bond (which requires you to put money or property down before you can be released).

How to Obtain Bail

Your first opportunity to obtain bail will be during a bail determination hearing in front of the magistrate after you are arrested. The magistrate will review all the factors required under the law, as well as your criminal history, and make an initial determination as to whether you are eligible for bail, and what kind of bonds or restrictions will be placed on your bail.

After that initial eligibility determination, if you are approved for bail, there are several steps you may need to take in order to be released. One example is you or a family member contacting a bondsman to obtain money to pay for a secured bond. Alternatively, you or a family member may need to pay the money directly if you can afford it.

In the event that you were not approved for bail, if you were given unfair conditions of release, or your bond was set too high, your lawyer can request that the court reconsider your eligibility for bail and to set a bond that is more appropriate for your financial position.

Why You Need a Lawyer

A lawyer is important to have during your entire criminal case. Primarily because a lawyer is there to help protect you from unfair treatment, to make sure your rights are protected, and give you a fighting chance. Bail hearings are no exception. A lawyer can help you determine when it is a good idea to request a modification of bail. One of the major considerations that could play into whether requesting a modification of bail is the fact that you may get credit for time served if you were denied bail or your bail was rescinded. Talk to a lawyer immediately if you are facing criminal charges.