The bail situation in the State of New York is bad enough to make one ex-chief Judge call for an end to the cash bail system altogether, following other states, like Alaska, which have already done the same. Exorbitant bail amounts ranging into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, even the millions, have been applied to criminal cases throughout the city.
The bail system puts low-risk, non-violent offenders in danger. They are more likely to be convicted. Appalling prison conditions threaten their mental health, and some commit suicide even after they are released. Others are at risk for committing new crimes while they are behind bars. In fact, one study suggests just 3 days in jail makes you 40% more likely to commit new offenses, compared to spending just 24 hours in jail.
Since we don’t want these outcomes for you and because bail reform isn’t moving so quickly that we want to rely on it, we want to present you with some options when you are presented with some exorbitant bail amount you can’t pay.
Option #1 – The Traditional Option
The traditional solution is to go to a bail bondsman, who will ask for just 10% of your bail amount. You won’t ever get that money back. If you are acquitted, or the charges are dropped, the court will refund the bondsman the full amount of your bail. That 10% is their profit for the service they rendered.
If you can’t afford even the 10% going to family members and friends may be feasible.
And if you have taken this option, make sure you hire an outstanding lawyer (see below) and make your court appearance so you don’t end up locked into debt with the bail bond company.
Option #2 – The NYC Supervised Relief Program
This is a relatively new program designed for defendants who have committed misdemeanors or non-violent felonies. It requires you to undergo pre-trial supervision, which means you’ll make periodic check-ins in person or over the phone. You might also be steered towards certain social services like mental health counseling, drug treatment, or job training.
You must be deemed eligible by the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice to undergo this program. Your attorney might need to go to bat for you as entry into this program is not automatic.
Option #3 – Find the Best Lawyer You Can Get
If your bail is especially high you might just be stuck, with no way to get anywhere near even the 10% a bail bondsman might ask for.
If that’s the case, getting the best lawyer you can possibly get may be your only shot at attaining freedom. A private lawyer is still expensive, but we’re way less expensive than paying most extravagant bail amounts.
In return, you get better advocacy than an underfunded, overloaded public defender might provide. There are some talented people in those offices, but the results speak for themselves. 90% to 95% of public defender clients end up just pleading guilty. Taking a plea bargain might not be in your best interest, however.
Being charged with a crime is inherently disruptive, expensive, and distressing. Hopefully laws will continue to evolve to make our justice system fairer and easier to navigate. Until then, your best recourse is to make sure you have an experienced, dedicated criminal defense lawyer in your corner.