If you’v been arrested, you naturally hope you can get out of jail while your case is pending. Depending on the charges you’re facing and the judge handling the initial hearing, you may be offered bail. Here’s what you need to know about how bail and bonds work in our state.

What is the difference between bail and bond?

Sometimes, the words are used interchangeably, but bail is the dollar amount the judge sets on your release from jail pending trial. As long as you show up for your court appearances without a hitch, the money will be returned to you. It’s supposed to be high enough that you’ll think twice about skipping court.

If you aren’t able to afford the cash bail amount, you can often get a bond. For a fraction of your bail amount, a bondsman will arrange your release from jail. If you don’t stick around for trial, the bondsman has to pay the court the full amount so you can expect to put up significant collateral — like your home or other valuables — as surety.

Why does bail seem so high?

The cash bail system has come under fire for a couple of reasons. First, it disproportionately hurts the poor, who aren’t able to scrape together the cash for straight bail nor the collateral required for a bond. They often have to sit and wait for months while a case is pending.

Second, it pressures defendants into taking plea deals even when they are innocent. Prosecutors may push for ridiculously high bail — and judges may set them — knowing that the defendants can’t come up with that much money. After the defendants have  been in jail for a while, the prosecutor may offer a plea deal for “time served,” and they may take it just to get back home even if they are innocent.

If you’ve been arrested, a criminal defense attorney can often get your bail down to something more affordable. The time to contact someone for help is now before the situation gets worse.