Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Court Considerations in Setting Bail

I have received some questions lately about how exactly a court sets a defendant's bail.  Let me begin with a disclaimer - there is no "exactness" involved in the process.  It is all a matter of discretion and balancing.  The primary purpose for setting bail is to secure the presence of the defendant in court at his trial.  The amount of bail should be set sufficiently high to give reasonable assurance that the defendant will show up, but not so high as to be an instrument of oppression.  Article 17.15 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure states:
In the exercise of its discretion, a trial court should consider the following factors in setting a defendant's bail before trial:
  1. The bail should be sufficiently high to give reasonable assurance that the undertaking will be complied with.
  2. The power to require bail is not to be so used as to make it an instrument of oppression.
  3. The nature of the offense and the circumstances under which it was committed are to be considered.
  4. The ability to make bail is to be regarded, and proof may be taken upon this point.
  5. The future safety of a victim of the alleged offense and the community shall be considered.
The trial court will also take into consideration, the defendant's work history, family ties, residency, criminal record, conformity with previous bond conditions, and aggravating factors involved in the offense.

In reviewing a trial court's ruling regarding bail, Appellate courts will not intercede as long as the trial court's ruling is at least within the zone of reasonable disgreement.  In other words, the trial court can pretty much set bail at whatever it wants - so long as it can articulate some reasoning to justify it.