How Does Posting Bail Work in Florida?
When someone gets arrested in Broward County, their first phone call is usually to a friend or family member to bail them out. If you’re the person on the receiving end of the call, you likely have questions about what happened - but best to save those for a time you aren’t on a recorded line. As for questions about how posting bail works in Florida, our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers can shed some light.
We should begin by answering, “What exactly is bail?” (You might also be wondering if it’s the same thing as “bond.”)
Cash bail systems are essentially a form of insurance. When someone is arrested for a crime and booked into jail, they may be required to pay a certain amount of money to the state in order to secure their release prior to trial.
As outlined in F.S. 903.11, bail is money paid to the court, while bond is a loan taken out by the defendant or another third party to pay that bail. Bail bonds are often obtained from bail bond agencies, which typically charge customers 10 percent of the total bail amount (non-refundable) in exchange for issuing the loan. So if a defendant’s bail is set at $3,500, they would be responsible to pay $350 upfront to a bail bond agency. If the defendant fails to appear in court to face trial, they’re responsible to pay the full amount - and will likely have a warrant issued for their arrest. If a defendant “skips bond” and is arrested for failure to appear in court, they might be held in jail without bond until their trial.
Some states have moved away from these systems in recognition of the fact that they have an outsized negative impact on those in poverty. Florida isn’t one of those.How Much Bail Will I Have to Pay?
Each county in Florida has its bail scheduled. For instance, the bond schedule for the 17th Judicial Circuit in Broward County is as follows:
- 2nd degree misdemeanor - $25
- 1st degree misdemeanor - $100
- 3rd degree felony - $1,000
- 2nd degree felony - $3,500
- 1st degree felony (non-life offense) - $7,500
- 1st degree felony (life offense) - no bond
- Capital felony - no bond
Note that these are for state-level offenses. If you’re facing federal charges, the bond schedule may be different (and likely higher). In some cases, bond can be secured by putting up collateral - such as real estate, jewelry, or access to a bank account.
Other factors that may influence a judge’s decision for an upward or downward departure from this bail schedule include:
- Whether the offense was an attempted crime. In a lot of cases, one can face the same penalty for attempting a crime as they would for actual commission. Still, a failed attempt may result in a lower bail than a successful follow-through.
- Whether the crime involved violence. In particular, those facing domestic violence charges - even misdemeanors - will be required to appear before a judge before they can be given bail. If the offense involves violation of a protection order, bond may be revoked altogether - even if the underlying offense isn’t a 1st degree felony or capital crime. The court will also want to assess the possible threat that the defendant’s release could have on the victim(s) and community at-large. Accusations of violence heighten this risk.
- The potential flight risk. The court wants you to make your court date. Certain factors might increase the odds that one will abscond before trial, prompting the judge to set a higher bond amount. If you are facing a lengthy prison sentence, have few ties to the area, aren’t employed or a local resident, have a history of mental health problems, or have access to significant financial resources - you could be deemed at risk for absconding and missing your court date. The judge may opt to set your bail amount higher.
That said, not every Florida arrest will require bail to secure release. In fact, most Florida criminal defendants will be released on their own recognizance, or ROR. In these situations, a defendant signs a written promise to show up for their scheduled court appearance. In exchange, the court might impose certain conditions, such as avoiding alcohol, maintaining active employment, using a geolocation tracking device, regularly meeting with a probation officer, or refraining from travel. Conditions for pretrial release in Florida are set forth in F.S. 903.047. Violating any condition of your bond can result in bond revocation - meaning you’ll end up right back in jail while awaiting trial.
Judges have a fair amount of discretion when it comes to deciding bail. Bail algorithms are playing an increasing role in their determinations. These programs promise objective risk assessments - statistical predictions on whether a defendant is more or less likely to appear in court for their court date. However, they have come under scrutiny for implicit racial bias. Having an experienced defense attorney to advocate on your behalf can help push back against algorithm conclusions.
Once the case is over or within 36 months (whichever comes first), you can have your cash bonds refunded, as explained in F.S. 903.31. However, if you contracted with a bail bonds agent, your upfront deposit is likely non-refundable.Florida Passed Tighter Bond Rules
In 2023, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed HB 1627 which, among other actions, compels the Florida Supreme Court to:
- Develop a uniform statewide bond amount for criminal offenses.
- Authorizes chief judges in judicial circuits to set even higher bond amounts.
- Prohibits a person from being released before a first appearance if he/she has been arrested for a crime of violence. (This was not really an issue in the first place.)
- Prohibits judges from granting non-monetary pretrial release at a first appearance at first appearance if the alleged offense is on the list of “dangerous offenses” (which has been expanded to include DUI manslaughter, boating manslaughter, fentanyl trafficking, or written threats to kill).
- Authorizes any party to file a motion for reconsideration of pretrial detention if the accused is granted pretrial release but then “new information comes to light suggesting pretrial detention is warranted.”
These measures were described as a pushback/protection against bail reforms passed in other states. Such reforms have primarily been aimed at reducing financial requirements imposed on the accused to secure pre-trial release.Do I Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer for a Broward Bond Hearing?
There is no rule that says you must have a lawyer at a bond hearing - but it’s still a good idea.
A criminal defense lawyer can help make a case to the court that a client should be ROR rather than required to post bail. This is one of the many benefits of hiring a Browar defense attorney as soon as possible. The case for ROR is made stronger when a person has strong family or professional ties to the area, no criminal history, and isn’t accused of violence.
If bond has already been set at your first appearance (which happens within 24 hours of an arrest) but you can’t afford it, a defense lawyer can help by filing a motion to reduce bond. Getting that matter before the court could take days, possibly weeks, depending on how backlogged the docket is. Having qualified legal counsel during this process can help defendants navigate the process with greater ease, understanding, and peace of mind.
Schedule a free initial consultation with The Ansara Law Firm by calling (954) 761-4011.