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Washington bail reform may offer hope to those facing charges

Following someone's arrest, it is not uncommon for that person to spend some time in jail before making a first appearance before a judge. This hearing, called an arraignment, is when the accused hears the charges prosecutors are filing and has the chance to enter a plea. The judge may then set bail.

Bail is money or valuables those facing criminal charges pay to the court as an assurance that they will return for trial. If they show up, they get their money back. If they do not, they lose their money and may face additional charges. However, you may be among the many who feel that the cash bail system in Washington is unfair. In some areas of the state, court systems are trying other methods.

Bail is not always reasonable

The Constitution prohibits courts from imposing bail that is unreasonable or excessive. If you or a loved one is facing charges, you may be in a situation for which even a reasonable bail is something you cannot even imagine raising. This may mean you must remain in jail or use an expensive and risky bail bond. This may seem unfair, especially if your arrest related to a non-violent crime. You are separated from your family, perhaps your young children, and you run the risk of losing your job.

Since the purpose of bail is to ensure you will return for your trial, some counties are using a different approach by setting bail only in certain circumstances. For example, you or your loved one may be willing to show up for trial if the court system used one of these pretrial methods:

  • Using computer models to more accurately predict whether you may be a flight risk or a danger to society
  • Calling or texting to remind you of your court date
  • Requiring your attorney to contact you in the time leading up to your trial
  • Providing passes for you to use public transportation to get to court
  • Offering access to pretrial services like housing assistance, drug counseling or vocational training
  • Researching deeper into the discriminatory issues involved in the bail system

If you or your loved one is waiting for an arraignment, the skill and experience of your defense attorney will play a critical role in whether you obtain release or face a bail amount you cannot afford. Having an attorney who will advocate for a fair bail or no bail at all can give you a chance to go home instead of sitting in a jail cell.

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