How Do Judges Set Bail in Salt Lake Criminal Cases?

After a suspect is brought into custody in Utah, he or she usually has the option to be released in exchange for posting bail.  However, bail is not the same for everyone.  So how do judges in Utah decide what an inmate’s bail should be?  Are there any crimes that can’t get bail?  And what should you do if your loved one’s bail is too high?  Our South Jordan criminal defense lawyers have the answers.

Reasons Bail Can Be Denied in Utah

The criminal justice system involves much more than just going to trial.  In fact, trial is the final stage of the criminal process prior to sentencing, which may even be followed by an appeal to challenge the conviction and/or sentence.

Long before trial begins, one of the first steps in the process is attending the bail hearing.  The bail hearing takes place after the suspect is arrested, but before the preliminary hearing (where the prosecutor must show that he or she has enough evidence to take the case forward).  The purpose of the bail hearing is to determine if and under what terms the suspect should be released from custody while the case is pending.

Speaking broadly, three outcomes can result from a bail hearing:

  • The judge can deny bail.
  • The judge can set bail.
  • The judge can grant a special type of free bail called “release on own recognizance” or ROR. ROR is only granted in cases where the defendant did not commit a violent crime, has established ties to the local community, and is not classified as a “flight risk” (a defendant who is likely to flee from law enforcement by leaving the county, state, or country).

Bail is seldom denied.  In order for the judge to deny bail, the defendant must either be charged with aggravated murder — Utah’s only crime which is subject to capital punishment — or be charged with a felony while other factors are also in place, such as being a flight risk or having previous problems with bail jumping or other bail violations.  However, in many cases even defendants who are charged with felonies can be granted bail.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean bail is always affordable.  Bail can range from hundreds of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and there are numerous factors that can impact how bail is set.

row of jail cells

How Judges Use Utah’s Uniform Bail Schedule

Factors that can impact how bail is set include the following:

  • The nature and severity of the alleged crime.
  • Whether there is a restraining order (protective order) against the defendant.
  • Whether the defendant has violated probation or parole.
  • Whether the defendant is already free on bail.
  • Whether any appeals of a former conviction are still pending.
  • Whether the defendant has connections to the community (such as family or employers).
  • Whether the defendant has a history of substance abuse and/or mental illness.
  • Whether the defendant has a record of prior offenses.
  • The defendant’s personal character and reputation within the community.

While all of these factors can impact how bail is ultimately set, Utah’s Uniform Bail/Fine Schedule is the most important determining factor of all.

The bail schedule is a detailed chart that lists preset bail levels for various crimes.  However, the same degree of crime can result in different bail amounts based on whether the defendant’s criminal history is rated as “poor” (high recidivism), “fair,” “moderate,” “good,” or “excellent” (clean criminal record).

For example, imagine a defendant is charged with a Class A misdemeanor involving drugs (e.g. simple drug possession) or “crimes against the person” (e.g. simple assault).  Bail for this hypothetical defendant could range as follows, based on his or her criminal history:

  • Poor — $2,500
  • Fair — $2,000
  • Moderate — $1,500
  • Good — $1,000
  • Excellent — $500

As you can see from this example, two defendants charged with similar crimes could end up receiving dramatically different bail amounts.  In this case, the difference between “poor” and “excellent” is a full $2,000!

In other situations, the variation can be even more extreme.  There’s a $2,500 difference for defendants charged with third degree crimes against a child ($5,000 to $2,500), a $4,400 difference for defendants charged with second or third degree felonies against the person ($5,000 to $600), and an $8,500 difference for defendants charged with first degree felonies other than murder ($10,000 to $1,500).

In most cases, the judge will follow the bail schedule unless there are extenuating circumstances warranting a deviation from the normal guidelines.  However, that doesn’t mean a defendant is always stuck with the bail that’s initially set.  If you think the bail set for your loved one is unjust, a Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer may be able to help.  We have over 16 years of experience handling a wide range of felonies and misdemeanors in Salt Lake City and throughout Utah, and will fight aggressively to protect your legal rights as a defendant.

To set up a free, completely private consultation, call the law offices of Overson Law LLC right away at (801) 758-2287.  We are prepared to make jail visits on short notice.

For more information about bail and incarceration in Utah, feel free to browse our Guide to Salt Lake County Jail. Getting your loved one released from custody will be faster and simpler once you understand the procedures for posting bail at the Salt Lake County Jail.