Anyone who is arrested for any crime in Virginia—from a simple misdemeanor to a complex felony—runs the risk of being held in jail pending trial. It can take many months before trial so that means someone spends that entire time in jail, even if they are later acquitted. If that happens to you or someone you love, you need to move quickly to get a “bond hearing.” A bond is a very old idea that used to mean putting up money to promise to do something—in this case, it used to mean putting money into a special account at court (“posting bond”) and promising to appear for trial. You would agree that the court could keep that money if you didn’t show up for trial.
Bond has changed in some ways but much of that process stays the same. In Virginia, anyone held in jail on a criminal charge has a right to ask the court to let them out of jail until the trial starts. A bond hearing is where the court hears evidence from the person locked up as well as from the prosecutors before deciding whether to let the person have a bond. This process is complicated and the best chance to get a bond is to have an experienced attorney help.
What Kind of Bonds Exist?
There are three types of bond in Virginia:
- Recognizance: A recognizance bond is the least-restrictive bond the courts use. It is basically a written promise signed by the accused saying that he or she will show up to court. To get a recognizance bond, the accused usually must have either minimal criminal history, great references, or both.
- Unsecured: The next level of pretrial release is an unsecured bond. The word “secured” means that, just like a loan, some property or money is on the line if the accused doesn’t come to court. An unsecured bond will have a money amount attached to it—say, $5,000—but because it is unsecured, there is no actual money given to the court or a bail bondsman. If the accused doesn’t come to court, the Commonwealth can go through a lengthy process to force the accused to come up with the money and pay it as a penalty—after they’re found and brought back to court.
- Secured: A secured bond is just like the other kind, but this one actually requires real money or property to be put up. This use of money or property is done a number of ways. Usually, if you have a secured bond—again, let’s say it’s $5,000—you would either have to give the court that exact amount of money or find a bondsman. A bondsman is a specialized business that posts the bond money for you and charges you a fee to do so. That fee is usually 10% of the bond amount that the bondsman keeps that as his payment. If someone skips court on a secured bond, the money is more easily given to the court (“forfeited”). If it was a bond secured by a bondsman, that company is on the hook for the bond amount and the company has a certain amount of time to track down the person who skipped court. Think Dog the Bounty Hunter—finding folks who skipped out on bond is a business. If the accused paid the entire bond themselves, then the Commonwealth can go through a forfeiture hearing to have the court order that the bond is kept, or forfeit, by the government.
How Do I Get a Judge to Give Me a Bond?
First, you need to ask for a bond hearing. At the outset, once you are arrested, you see a magistrate. That magistrate will be the first person to either give you a bond or deny you bond and hold you in jail. If the magistrate does not give you a bond, you’ll next have to see a judge. That judge will tell you what your charges are and ask whether you want a lawyer. If you ask for a lawyer—whether court appointed or one you will hire—the court may not be able to hear a bond motion without that lawyer there. That means you have to wait until you get a lawyer and that lawyer files the right paperwork to get you in front of the judge.
Once your lawyer has filed a motion for bond, your next step is to persuade the judge that you should get a bond. The judge has to follow a specific law that describes when a person should or should not get a bond. Until recently, there were many different types of charges that a person could face that would make it presumed that they shouldn’t get a bond. Those presumptions have gone away. Now, the law says that anyone arrested on a charge is required to get a bond unless the judge has “probable cause” to believe:
- He will not appear for trial or hearing or at such other time and place as may be directed, or
- His liberty will constitute an unreasonable danger to himself, family or household members, or the public.
Probable cause is a legal standard of proof that basically means whether the judge thinks it is likely to believe that you either will not show up to court or that you’d be a danger to someone if you get released. That’s a pretty low standard to prove. If the prosecutor thinks you should not get a bond, all they have to do is prove to the judge that there’s probable cause to think you’d run or be dangerous and you could stay in jail until your trial.
The judge is required to consider all “relevant” information about you to see if you are a good fit for bond. The law gives the judge some guidelines of what to consider:
- Facts of the case;
- Whether a gun was used;
- How strong the judge feels the evidence is;
- Your story, including your job history, education, or medical, mental health, or substance abuse treatment;
- How long you’ve lived in the community or what ties you have to the area (like family, business, kids, and so on);
- Your criminal record;
- Whether you’ve ever been convicted of failing to appear in a court or had your bond revoked in any other case; and
- Whether you are likely to interfere with the case by attempting to obstruct justice, or in any way interfere with a witness, a prospective witness, juror, victim, or family or household member.
It is critical that you have an experienced attorney present your evidence at a bond hearing to help the judge see that you should get that bond.
If you get out of jail on a bond, you will have certain conditions you have to comply with. The court gives everyone rules to play by on a bond. These usually include basic requirements that tell someone what they can and cannot do. These include, but aren’t limited to:
- Don’t use drugs or alcohol
- Don’t get any more charges
- Don’t leave Virginia
- Live at a certain address with specific people
- Don’t possess any firearms or other dangerous weapons
- Comply with pretrial supervision
If you get a bond order with pretrial supervision, that’s kind of like having a probation officer before going to court. Your pretrial supervisor will meet with you in person or by the phone, talk with you, and screen your breath, urine, or saliva for drugs or alcohol. Sometimes they require you to go to a rehab program or speak with a mental health professional. The pretrial officer has great power to tell you what rules you have to play by in addition to the ones given to you by the judge.
What Happens If I Run into Problems While on Bond?
If you are out on any kind of bond and something bad happens (like getting a new charge, catching a “dirty” drug screen, and so on) you risk being sent back to jail. Before that can happen, the Commonwealth needs to file a motion to revoke your bond. Then, the judge has to issue a “show cause” to tell you to come to court and prove why you shouldn’t be sent to jail. The judge can also issue a “capias” or a warrant for your arrest and then you will be sent directly to jail and have to get in front of the judge for a hearing as to whether you should have your bond revoked.
If you are on a bond, you need to do everything that you are told to do. If you aren’t supposed to consume alcohol, stay away from booze! It is wise to not even use any over-the-counter medications with alcohol in them (such as mouthwash, Nyquil, and so on). If you are on prescription medications, make sure you tell your pretrial officer and give them proof of your meds.
If you are facing criminal charges and need to get a bond or have someone you love who needs a bond, you need a seasoned defense attorney to fight for you in court. Your attorney can help you navigate the bond process and help you stay in line while out on bond.
Contact us today for a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.
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