COMPUTER-ASSISTED BAIL HEARINGS
When a person is arrested and held in custody, his or her first appearance before a judge will be in what is called an arraignment. Under California law, the defendant must be afforded an arraignment within 48 hours (not to include weekends or holidays). At the arraignment, the judge will determine whether the defendant should be released on bail and, if so, the judge will set the bail amount. Some defendants are released on their own recognizance, usually when the alleged offense is not serious. Most defendants are allowed to post bail at an amount set by the court, which depending on the crime or crimes charged may be in the millions of dollars but is often in the tens of thousands of dollars (for which the defendant typically uses a bail bondsman and pays a percentage of the bail amount). For some defendants, the courts will deny bail. When the court denies bail, the defendant who is legally innocent (innocent until proven guilty) will likely be incarcerated until trial. It happens sometimes that a defendant denied bail spends months, even years, in jail only to be found not guilty of the crime by a jury. On other occasions, it goes the other way: the judge releases a defendant on bail who then skips bail or commits another crime while released.
In California, all alleged offenses, including murder, are eligible for bail (except murder with special circumstances). It is left to the judge’s discretion whether to grant bail, usually after hearing brief arguments from both the defense and the prosecution. But a judge, as experienced as he or she may be in making this call, is a human being with human biases and prone to human error.