Criminal Law

Release From Jail on One’s Own Recognizance: What It Means to Get “OR”

By John McCurley, Attorney
Getting released on your “own recognizance,” or “OR,” is great because it’s free. But you may have to spend a little more time in jail to get it.

After being arrested and thrown in jail, getting out is usually top priority. But even for a minor offense, bail can be $10,000 or more. And if you don’t have the cash on hand, you’ll generally be forced to go to a bail bondsman. Bail bondsmen normally charge a nonrefundable 10% fee. So on a $10,000 bail, you’ll be on the hook to bondsman for $1,000—money that you won’t be getting back. (Read more about your options for posting bail.)

So is there a way to get out of custody without paying bail or a bondsman? Yes—that’s what “OR” (“own recognizance”) release is about.

What Is OR?

OR is release from jail based on a promise to appear in court. In other words, a judge agrees to let you out of jail in exchange for your word that you’ll go to all your court dates.

A judge can also put conditions on OR release. For instance, a judge might condition release on you not using drugs or alcohol or staying away from certain people or places.

If you blow off a court date or violate a condition of release, the judge can revoke OR and put you back in jail.

How Does OR Release Work?

Typically, only a judge can release a person on OR. Jail officials can let you out if you post bail, but they generally don’t have the authority to grant OR release. So if want to request OR, you’ll have to wait to talk to a judge; the earliest opportunity usually occurs on the first day that court is in session following your arrest. For example, if you’re arrested on a Tuesday night, you’ll likely get to see a judge on Wednesday. But if you get busted on a Friday, you probably won’t get to speak to a judge until Monday.

At this first court date, you or your attorney can make a pitch to the judge for OR release. In deciding whether to grant OR, a judge ordinarily looks to factors like:

  • the seriousness of the arrest offense
  • your criminal history
  • whether you’ve missed court dates in the past, and
  • whether you have significant ties to the community (like family or a job).

Basically, the judge is trying to gauge whether you’re a flight risk or pose a danger to the community. If the judge has no concerns in these areas, your chances of getting OR are much better.

(Find out more about “bail hearings,” the court proceedings where judges make bail decisions.)

Does OR Have a Downside?

The downside of requesting OR is that you have to sit in jail while waiting to see a judge. Posting bail is generally a much quicker way of getting out of jail. In most cases, you can bail out right away after being booked—that way, you don’t need to spend much, if any, time behind bars. Many people aren’t willing spend time in jail just for the chance to save few bucks on bail. For these people, paying a bail bondsman is well worth it.

Question for a Lawyer

  • Do judges ever grant OR on serious crimes?
  • Will OR be revoked if I accidentally miss a court date?
  • If my OR gets revoked, is there a way to get it reinstated?
  • Can I appeal a judge’s decision to deny OR?
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