Bondsman or lawyer, who are you going to call?

Few people want to go to jail, which is why they employ lawyers to represent them in criminal cases. In many cases, the lawyer is not the first person who is called. As I wrote in my bail bond post a while back, after an arrest police may release a person from custody on a PTA (promise to appear; “own recognizance”) or set a bond before arraignment. Bond can be posted in full or by a bondsman (bondsman refers to a professional bondsman as well as a surety bail bond agent). For some, the specter of spending any time in jail, even if only for a night at the police station, is enough to spring for the bondsman. To review: a person pays a premium to the bondsman, which is a fraction of the bond amount, as a nonrefundable fee for the bondsman’s services to serve as a surety.

I’ve said before and I’ll say it again: the first thing anyone should do when arrested is invoke his or her rights to silence and counsel. The second thing is to actually call a lawyer to assess the situation and prepare for representation. If there is a bond, the lawyer can determine how to approach it–whether and when to bond out. He or she can also arrange for the bondsman.

Why hire a lawyer before bonding out? Wouldn’t it be better to bond out, look for a lawyer and get started defending the case? For starters, it can actually save money. If a person goes to a bondsman and pays the premium, that premium is based on the current bond amount. If he or she waits, a lawyer has the opportunity to argue the bond down at arraignment. It is not uncommon for courts to reduce initial bonds of $5000 or more to PTA’s. A lower bond means a lower premium. The savings in premium can be worth the attorney’s fee.

Get out of jail for free? Nah, get out of jail for a fee.

Another reason is saving jail credit. When a defendant does not bond out and stays in jail during the pendency of his or her case, the time between the arrest and sentencing counts against any final sentence of imprisonment as preconfinement credit. For a case that has a strong possibility of a conviction and jail time, such as a firearms or drug charge with a mandatory minimum sentence, it may be more sensible to stay in jail and earn credit rather than pay a bondsman for what could only be a few months of limited freedom.

In addition to exhausting a budget and burning credit, posting a bond or paying a premium can place a defendant in the unenviable position of being indigent and not eligible for appointed counsel. The public defender’s and court’s indigency determinations might not account for money or assets that have already been spent on the bond. A court might also reason that the ability to somehow make a high bond is evidence of the means to pay for an attorney.

Bail and bonds are major parts of the criminal justice system. Like every other aspect criminal defense, one should seek the advice of an attorney for bonding out.

Chris DeMatteo is an attorney and the sole member of DeMatteo Legal Solutions at 2911 Dixwell Ave., Ste. B10, Hamden, CT. Call (203) 691-6594 or visit the office website. Attorney DeMatteo represents clients in criminal, juvenile and civil matters in all of Connecticut's courts.