After being arrested for a DUI, you’re brought to jail and "booked." Can you get out when you sober up, or will you have to arrange for bail? The game of Monopoly has provided us with the concept of the “Get Out of Jail Free” card—a magic status that enables you to walk away from incarceration without paying anything. But how likely is it that you can get out of jail free after a DUI?
What Is Bail?
Bail (or bond) is cash that arrested DUI suspects give to the court in exchange for their release from jail. Having paid bail money helps ensure that the defendants appear in court for their arraignment. When defendants don't show up, the court can keep the bail money.
When Bail Is Required
After DUI suspects are booked, or "processed," one of the following occurs. Suspects are either:
- released on their "own recognizance"
- allowed to post bail at the police station soon after booking
- brought in front of a judge, who will decide whether to allow their release on bail, or
- required to remain in jail (usually for suspects who are considered flight risks and have had multiple DUIs or were involved in an accident).
Released on Your Own Recognizance: Getting Out Free
In some cases, the judge in charge of a case may waive payment of bail on the condition that you appear in court when required. This is called being released on one's own recognizance and is usually abbreviated as "OR" or "ROR." This is, of course, your best possible outcome, and is the most common outcome. In fact, in a survey we took of readers who had recently been arrested for DUI, only 26% had to pay bail. This percentage includes those who had their charges dropped as well as those who were eventually convicted.
You’re more likely to see bail waived (get OR status) or see bail reduced if your DUI arrest was a first offense without a collision or injury, a borderline BAC (close to .08%), and you have ties to your community, a steady job, no previous record, and family members living nearby.
Whether you'll get bail waived is also conditional on the jurisdiction (location). For example, a DUI defendant in Los Angeles County is much less likely to be released OR versus a DUI defendant in a rural Michigan county. In other words, local bail schedules and traditions make getting out of jail for free a geographic phenomenon. In today’s anti-drunk-driving climate, it can be a challenge in some areas to convince the judge to release you on your own recognizance. You may have better luck waiving or reducing bail if you seek the advice of an attorney who specializes in DUI defense.
How to Pay Bail If Required
If you’re required to pay bail before being released from jail, you must either pay the full bail amount, submit property equal in value to the bail, or post a bond guaranteeing payment (arranged by a bail bonds agency).
If you paid bail yourself, then after you have shown up for all required court appearances, your bail is refunded, minus a small administrative fee.
Defendants who have to pay higher bail amounts or people of limited means often choose to use a bail bond agency that submits a bond to the court agreeing to pay the full bail amount if you fail to show up for any required appearances. A bail bond agency pays your bail in return for payment of a nonrefundable fee (in some states, the fee is limited to 10% of the bail amount). Most bail bond agencies accept credit cards and usually require payment prior to posting of the bond.
In some cases, the bail bonds agency acquires an interest in your property as collateral. If you’re required to give collateral, you get it back after appearing in court, but you don't get the 10% bail bond fee back. If you don't show up to court, the bail bond agency has the authority to try to find you and bring you to court.
How Much Does Bail Cost?
If a suspect has to pay bail, it’s either set from a "bail schedule" (a list of set bail amounts that correspond to the crime charged) or by the judge, who will consider the circumstances of the DUI arrest (especially whether there was an accident and injuries), the suspect's DUI record and criminal history, and the suspect's ties to the community.
In our DUI survey, readers paid an average of $500 for bail, in either administrative fees to the jail or bail bond fees. The amount varied depending on circumstances, of course. Some readers reported paying as little as $100 while others paid up to $2,500. And remember, when a defendant's bail gets set at, say, $25,000, a defendant who gets a bail bond and appears in court as scheduled will only have to pay a portion of that ($2,500, if the bail bond fee is 10% of the bail amount).
Once you're released on bail or OR, it's time to learn more about what to expect from the DUI process.