Bail determines how hard you can fight a case.
“Will I get out of jail if I just plead guilty?”
Unfortunately, if you are held on bail you cannot afford, this will likely be the first question out of your mouth when you get to speak to an attorney. Even worse, if you sit in jail, you have virtually no leverage to negotiate a settlement in your favor. To build momentum, a defense case requires months of brief writing, investigation, and advocacy. This time frame is just unbearable if you are sitting in jail with car payments, a mortgage, and kids to care for. The truth is, if the Court releases you on your own recognizance, or on a bail amount that you can actually afford, the outcome of your case dramatically changes. Yes, while bail is fundamentally unfair for the poor it is still something you have to deal with, so it is important to be prepared.
Whether you are held in jail or not depends on what happens at your initial appearance & arraignment hearing.
What happens at an arraignment hearing?
In Jefferson County, WA district court at least, your first appearance and arraignment hearings are combined. This hearing is the first time you get to see the judge. If you are in jail you will observe court proceedings from a video monitor. If you have been issued a criminal citation and summons by an officer or by mail, you will show up to court on your own and see the judge in person.
Arraingments in district courts are governed by CrRLJ (Criminal Rules for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction) 3.2. At the hearing the Judge will call you to the front and make sure you are the right person, review if the prosecutor has enough evidence to go forward, advise you of your right to an attorney, determine your conditions of release before trial (see below), and set your next court date.
What doesn't happen at arraignment?
Any talk about your side of the story, especially if you are innocent! The prosecutor will use anything you say against you.
Conditions of release.
After listening to the prosecutor and your defense attorney, the Judge will decide if you will be set free before trial, and if so, on what conditions (bail, supervision, etc.)
How to prepare for an arraignment.
The State’s argument relies almost exclusively on the police report and your criminal history. If there are bad facts in your case, or you have other criminal history, or warrant history, it is critical that your attorney be prepared to make a strong argument. CrRLJ 3.2 outlines a myriad of different factors the court can consider when weighing bail, or other conditions of release, as options. The court can look to your history in the area, family connections, work, housing, those willing to vouch for your appearance, attitude at the hearing, whether you receive government assistance, childcare needs, ect.
Early representation makes all the difference.
Because an attorney can be almost endlessly creative in crafting a bail argument, it is important that you meet with one before your first hearing. Even if you or a loved one are sitting in jail prior to arraignment, a lawyer can visit for consultation to get enough information to make a strong argument.