Philly Enters Second Phase of Bail Reform

June 19th, 2012 by admin

In 2009, Philadelphia took the first steps in reforming a bail system that hadn’t been touched in nearly 15 years. New court rules were issued in an effort to ensure judges were hearing cases “based on merits and not dismissed early because of witness fear and fatigue or gamesmanship by defense lawyers,” according to The Inquirer. This year, the city has begun working on those people who bailed out of jail pending trial and never showed back up, and on outdated bail guidelines.

According to The Inquirer, Philadelphia is tied with Essex County, N.J. (Newark), for having the highest fugitive rate. At the time of their 2009 report that spurred the initial bail reform stages, Philly had 47,000 long-term fugitives who owed the city a combined total of $1 billion in forfeited bail money.

The city’s bail regulations were first set in 1982 when Philly became the first court system to adopt such guidelines, assuring defendants were treated uniformly. But over the years these guidelines have become outdated and judges often simply ignore them.

They haven’t been adjusted for inflation and are largely considered to be far too low. Judges frequently order bail that is much higher than recommended by the guidelines. That, however, is soon to change. Common Pleas Court Judge John W. Herron, the city’s top administrative judge, unveiled a plan to hike bail amounts 50%.

Bail is something that people are required to put up as a show of good faith that they will return for future court dates if they are released from jail. The vast majority of people accused of crimes in the area are released without having to post any bail at all. However, for those who are required to post bail, it’s typically 10% of a cash-bail amount that’s required.

If you fail to show after posting bail, you can owe the city the entire amount of the bail (the additional 90%). But with the outstanding $1 billion in unpaid forfeitures, it doesn’t seem like the city has been doing much to collect until recently.

A Bench Warrant Court has been set up to address fugitives, those who never returned to court. This court will issue additional jail time and will work to “encourage private bail firms to do more business in Philadelphia,” according to The Inquirer.

Bail can be a complicated issue for judges and defendants alike. Judges must weigh your likelihood of absconding (becoming a fugitive) with the cost to incarcerate you, and your potential danger to yourself or society if released.

If you are charged with a crime and have questions about bail or your defense strategy, contact us today. We can offer a free consultation on your case and some potentially valuable legal advice.