Monday, February 09, 2004

Are suspects held on bail or bond?

Almost always go for "bail." The Associated Press says:
Bail is money or property that will be forfeited to the court if an accused individual fails to appear for trial. It may be posted as follows:
* The accused may deposit with the court the full amount or its equivalent in collateral such as a deed to property.
* A friend or relative may make such a deposit with the court.
* The accused may pay a professional bail bondsman a percentage of the total figure. The bondsman, in turn, guarantees the court that it will receive from him the full amount in the event the individual fails to appear for trial.

It is correct in all cases to say that an accused posted bail or posted a bail bond (the money held by the court is a form of bond). When a distinction is desired, say that the individual posted his own bail, that bail was posted by a friend or relative, or that bail was obtained through a bondsman.
I think it's that "It is correct ... to say that an accused posted bail or posted a bail bond" that confuses people into the incorrect "The judge set bond at X."

A judge sets bail, the money or property that would be forfeited if the suspect failed to appear in court. The accused either posts bail or a bail bond, or he can be released on his own recognizance.

If it's none of the above, he's stuck in the slammer. And here there is some variance on style.

Some, such as the Dallas Morning News, say, "Joe Schmoe was held on $20,000 bail." But others argue that this is ambiguous. (Anyone is held initially on that bail until they post it. The question is, did they post it?)

Another option allowed at the Morning News that's near ubiquitous: "Schmoe was held in lieu of $20,000 bail." But it has been argued by people more knowledgeable than I that this is a cliche.

Some, such as the Philadelphia Inquirer, get around these problems by requiring "Schmoe did not make $20,000 bail and was being held."

And the New York Times stylebooks says:
If the defendant fails to produce cash or a bond in the amount determined by a judge who has set bail, the defendant is held in bail or in $100,000 bail.


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