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Erratically imposed bail undermines impartial court system

Though the trial and verdict receive the most attention in the criminal process, every step, from investigation to sentencing, is just as important as the next. At every stage of the process, the person who is the subject of a criminal charge is entitled to fair treatment and protection under the law.

One particular aspect of the criminal process that may be overlooked is setting bail. According to the Constitution's Eighth Amendment, courts are forbidden from imposing excessive bail. Though that protection is forged into the Constitution, there are very vague guidelines surrounding for officials who set bail, which can lead to unfair treatment.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reveals that up to 20 percent of those in jail are awaiting their trial. This means that over 500,000 people cannot afford or meet the conditions of their bail at any given time. The sheer number of people affected by this is both astounding and concerning.

Furthermore, since it is unclear what defines "excessive bail," some judges have imposed exceptionally burdensome -- or even bizarre -- requirements for bail. If a person cannot meet these conditions for release, they can be charged with contempt of court. In other words, they would be facing penalties for crimes that haven't yet been tried in court. As one observer points out, this undermines the presumption of innocence, which is essential to maintaining fairness and impartiality in the courts.

Realizing that bail conditions are often imposed in an erratic or ad hoc fashion underlines the importance of trustworthy legal representation. Someone who is not familiar with the law may not understand their rights at each step of the criminal process. Receiving an unfair level of bail directly imposes on a person's freedom as they head into a criminal trial.

Source: Slate, "Fire the Bail Bondsmen," Dan Markel and Eric J. Miller, June 19, 2012

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