Persons charged with crimes post bond money and are released from jail while their case is pending.
What happens to the bond money posted at the county court?
In Lancaster County, bond money stays with the court until the case is resolved. If a defendant is arrested and the case is dismissed before the county attorney files charges, the full amount of the bond money is returned to the defendant. In most cases, the bond money is held by the court until the matter is resolved. Once the criminal matter is completed by either an acquittal, dismissal, or a conviction followed by sentencing, the defendant’s bond money is returned minus 10% that is taken by the County. In cases where the defendant fails to appear in court or violates a condition of his bond, the judge may forfeit the bond, meaning that all of the money goes into the registry of the court and a warrant is issued to arrest and detain the defendant while his trial is pending. The bottom line is that when bond money is posted, the county generally gets a 10% cut and in some cases, when the defendant violates conditions of bond, the county gets the entire amount of bond money.
The presumption of innocence and the right to due process of law under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution are some of the reasons we allow defendants pending trial to post bond. There are of course obvious economic reasons as well. It costs the County approximately $65 a day to keep a prisoner in the Lancaster County Jail. More defendants out on bond, means less of a burden on the taxpayer. While no one wants dangerous criminals out on the streets, we house several persons accused of nonviolent crimes in our county jail while their cases are pending. Despite technological advances that allow for electronic monitoring, Lancaster County still maintains a large number of persons with minimal criminal records accused on non-violent crimes in pre-trial confinement. The County has addressed this problem with the pre-trial release program run by Community Corrections, which allows employed defendants to be released from jail without posting bond while their trial is pending. Unfortunately this program is very selective, and is not an option for every non-violent pre-trial detainee.
So how is the amount of bond money set?
A judge sets a defendant’s bond based on a myriad of factors including the seriousness of the charged crime, the defendant’s criminal history, and risk of flight. The fact that a defendant has a steady job and strong ties to the community are good reasons for a judge to order a lower bond. However, the amount of bond is the sole discretion of the court. Often lawyers file motions for bond reviews in an attempt to lower the bond for a person who cannot bond out of jail.