When a criminal case is filed by a prosecutor, one of the first things that will happen is the setting of bail by a judge. This is often done with the judge having little or no information about the defendant or the details of the crime the person is accused of. The Missouri Constitution (Art. I, Sect. 20 and 21) recognizes the need for people to be free from excessive bail. In actual practice, complete denial of bail is very rare and usually reserved only for capital cases.
Most judicial circuits in Missouri have a “duty judge” who is assigned to look at and act on arrest warrants at all hours of the day. Usually, the defendant’s appearance in associate circuit court after an arrest will be one of the first practical opportunities for the initial bail settings to be reviewed. It is very important to have an attorney with you at the earliest opportunity.
Do not delay on obtaining legal counsel. We sometimes see the situation where a person has been assigned a very high bail amount. If your attorney is with you at your initial appearance, he can request that the court lower the bail setting. This obviously can be a big advantage to a defendant.
In theory, the purpose of bail is to ensure that a defendant will appear at trial. It is not meant to punish. It is important to understand, however, that different counties in Missouri, and different judicial circuits, can vary greatly in their interpretation of this requirement. It is not unusual to see bail settings in some jurisdictions that clearly are excessive. This is why it is so critical to obtain an attorney at the earliest stages of the process, so that your rights can be safeguarded.
Courts generally consider the following factors in deciding how to set the “conditions of release” (i.e., bail):
1. The circumstances of the accused offense;
2. Whether there are any local ties that the defendant has to the community (i.e., is he or she a flight risk?);
3. The defendant’s employment or job prospects and financial resources (i.e., ability to post a bond);
4. The defendant’s criminal record (if any) and “track record” of showing up in court for previous cases.
A key thing to remember here is, if at all possible, to consult with an attorney BEFORE posting bail that may be excessive. A bail bondsman is not qualified to give you legal advice, however well-intentioned he or she may be. Getting an attorney on your case quickly can often help lower high bail settings. This can save you thousands of dollars in many situations.