Bail Bond Hearings in California


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.

In an interesting study recently conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, computer scientists and economists developed an algorithm that reliably predicted whether a defendant facing the court in a bail hearing was a flight risk or likely to commit a crime while released on bail. The algorithm was trained using data from hundreds of thousands of New York State raps sheets and court records. When applied to historical data, the computer algorithm proved to be better at predicting whether a defendant should be released on bail or not. And the superiority of the algorithm over a judge’s decision was not insignificant. The estimates projected by the model suggest that the jail inmate population awaiting trial could be reduced by 42 percent—and that without a risk of further crimes being committed by those inmates who are released.

The study accommodated for the fact that the data were based on prior judicial decisions and only for those defendants who were released on bail. By applying econometric strategies, the study was able to simulate the outcomes. The experiment was repeated on data from 40 large urban areas with similar results. The researchers suggest that algorithms could be developed and offered as a tool to help judges make bail decisions.

Machine learning is destined to become a feature of the criminal justice system. While we are not going to see an automated criminal judge, we will see computer-assisted decision tools employed in the criminal courtroom.

Orange County criminal defense attorney William Weinberg is available to consult with you regarding any criminal matter. You can reach him at his Irvine office at 949-474-8008 or email him at Bond