People accused of committing crimes in Louisiana and around the country appear in court for the first time when they attend an arraignment hearing. The judges who preside over these proceedings hear dozens of cases in a single session, so this is not a time for arguing facts or questioning evidence. During an arraignment hearing, the charges are read out, a plea is entered and the judge decides whether or not the defendant should be released or remanded. If they are released, the judge may order that they post bail to ensure they appear at their trials.
Jails are expensive and criminal defense attorneys have argued that incarcerating people who have not been convicted is unjust, so bail is typically granted unless the defendant is considered a danger to the community or a significant flight risk. Those accused of committing serious crimes that carry long prison sentences have a powerful motive to flee, so they may be denied bail and remanded to custody even if they have deep ties to the community. When bail is granted, judges may impose restrictions, such as forbidding contact with the victim or the victim’s family or submitting to regular toxicology tests.
Bail must usually be posted in cash, but exceptions are sometimes made. Judges may allow property to be deposited in lieu of cash, or they could allow a friend or relative to promise to pay the bail amount if the defendant does not appear in court. When a defendant lacks the funds to secure their release, commercial bondsmen could provide the money for a fee. This fee is usually equal to 10% of the bail.
Calls for bail reform
The bail system has been harshly criticized for punishing the poor, and many cities have reformed their cash bail laws in response to these arguments. Even when they are not required to post bail, poor defendants may still be at a disadvantage because the public defenders who represent them are often underfunded and overworked.