When a crime occurs in any state, the court system can not hold all accused people in the system until their trial date. Jail overcrowding, among other reasons, puts too much stress on the prison system. Therefore, many defendants are released on bail until a court date through a bail process. Others are kept in jail (remanded) until the date of their trial which could be weeks or in some cases months away. 

The bail process can be confusing and overwhelming, especially for people who have never experienced the ins and outs of the legal system. Today, our two-part series on the Massachusetts bail process examines the types of bail often used by the criminal justice system. 

Forms of Bail 

There are a couple of forms of bail that defendants should be aware of as they face a criminal case. Massachusetts offers several forms of bail and bonds, such as cash bail, surety bonds, and personal recognizance.

Personal Recognizance

Personal Recognizance bail is also referred to as PR, or in some cases, OR bail. This means Own Recognizance bail. In brief, this type of bail is a no-cost bail. It indicates that the defendant signs a written promise to report to the court that they will appear on the date of the hearing or trial. 

While no cash bail is paid to either the court or a bail bondsman, their requirements of bail remain similar to those that do require cash. For instance, a bail that is on PR may still require certain conditions such as not getting in trouble with the law or staying away from a victim. 

Many cases where PR bail is utilized include factors where the magistrate believes the accused is not a flight risk, a danger to themselves or others and has strong ties to the community. These circumstances make it more likely that they will appear in court to face the charges. Personal recognizance is typically reserved for low-risk defendants.  

Cash Bail 

Another type of bail includes cash bail at an amount set by the bail magistrate. Usually, the amount is commensurate with the type and severity of the crime as well as the level of danger the person poses to themselves and others. 

Cash bail means that the accused either puts up the entire amount themselves to cover the amount or asks a bail bondsman to cover the cost for a fee. 

Defendants are often concerned about what happens to the money and if they will ever see that cash again. The bail is set aside by the court and is held until the accused shows up for court. After the case is completed, the bail amount will be returned and any court fees may be paid from this amount. 

This is, by far, the most common form of bail used in the Massachusetts legal system. 

Surety Bond

Some criminal defendants can not afford the entire amount of the bail that was set. A bail bondsman may be able to help in these cases. 

A surety bond is when a bail bondsman will pay the bond for a fee (usually 10% of the cost of the bail.) The defendant then promises to appear in court to the bondsman. The 10% is nonrefundable and the defendant or family members will be liable for the full amount should the person fail to show up for required court appearances. 

judicial gavel and scales

What If I Can’t Post Bail?

Cash bail is not always a financial option for many low-income defendants. Some jurisdictions have implemented alternative pretrial release programs focused on reducing reliance on cash bail. The Massachusetts Bail Fund (MBF) is one of these programs which provides free bail assistance for low-income individuals who cannot afford their full cash bail amount. The MBF also advocates for systemic change aimed at ending cash bail altogether.

Revocation of Bail 

Should the accused not follow the requirements of bail, their bond may be revoked. One condition that is required in every case is that the defendant may not commit any criminal offense while out on bail. Other conditions could be not contacting the alleged victim, not abusing the alleged victim, random drug tests, or any other condition the magistrate deems appropriate.

For more information on the bail process and how the Law Office of Patrick Conway can help you, contact us