Bail Terms

bail-jumping – the criminal offense of defaulting on one’s bail
bailee – a person who receives personal property from another as a bailment
bailer/bail agent/bail bondsman – one who provides bail as a surety for a criminal defendant’s release
bail bond – a bond given to a court by a criminal defendant’s surety to guarantee that the defendant will duly appear in court in the future and, if the defendant is jailed, to obtain the defendant’s release from confinement
bail commissioner – a judge empowered to hold an emergency hearing to set bail when a hearing cannot be held during regular court hours
excessive bail – bail that is unreasonably high considering both the offense with which the accused is charged and the risk that the accused will not appear for trial
personal recognizance – the release of a defendant in a criminal case in which the court takes the defendant’s word that he or she will appear for a scheduled matter or when told to appear
surety – a person who is primarily liable for the payment of another’s debt or the performance of another’s obligation

The Arraignment

In criminal cases, the first appearance is the arraignment. The defendant will be asked to acknowledge his identity. The defendant may have private counsel present or the court may appoint a public defender. The defendant may be told his possible punishment.


If charged with a misdemeanor, the defendant is required to reply to the written charges with a plea of either guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendere (no contest). The judge will set the defendant’s tentative appearance schedule.

Bail is established according to the county’s bail schedule. The defendant has a right to argue for a bail reduction. If the defendant pleads guilty at the arraignment, the judge may sentence him or her at that time.

If the defendant does not plead guilty at the arraignment, a pre-trial conference will probably be scheduled, at which time plea negotiations are discussed along with witnesses and strengths/weaknesses of the case.

The next step is the trial (by judge or jury) at which pre-trial motions and issues of fact are decided.

If the defendant is found guilty, the court will then impose a sentence on the defendant that could range from a fine, community service, counseling, jail time, a diversion program, substance abuse treatment, or a combination of these.

Felony Cases

If charged with a felony, the defendant may or may not be required to reply with a plea at the initial arraignment. (The policy of presenting a plea at felony arraignment is different state by state).

As a next step, the judge may set the defendant’s preliminary hearing. (Not all states have preliminary hearings; some convene a grand jury to find probable cause.)

As with misdemeanors, bail is established according to the county bail schedule. The defendant has a right to argue to bail reduction.

At the preliminary hearing, the D.A. will show the court that there was probable cause to believe that a crime was committed and that the defendant was the person who committed the crime. If the judge feels that there is enough preliminary evidence to proceed, then the defendant will be arraigned again and there will be a pre-trial conference at which time there may be plea negotiations and discussions of the issues, witnesses, and strengths and weaknesses.

As with misdemeanors, the next step is trial by judge or jury where all of the retrial motions and issues of fact are decided. If the defendant is found guilty at the end of the trial, then the judge will impose a sentence, usually much more severe than with a misdemeanor offense.