Have Cash Bail Available at Your Arraignment

It’s always a good idea to have a close friend or family member present in the courtroom with cash bail in hand at your arraignment.

“Arraignment” is your first court appearance in a criminal case. “Bail” is a sum of money that the court may require you to pay before releasing you. The purpose of bail is to make sure you come back to court when required.

Cash bail is bail posted in the form of cash. Bail can be posted in forms other than cash, such as a bail bond.

In New York City, the Department of Finance holds your bail until the Court orders that it be returned to you – usually at the end of your case. If you don’t return to court when you’re supposed to, then the person who posted your bail will forfeit the money – and the City will keep it.

Your lawyer’s goal at your arraignment will often be to get you released without bail. Release without bail is also known as “release on recognizance” or “R.O.R.”. However, you should prepare for the worst-case scenario: the arraignment judge might set bail on you. Because this happens often, especially when the charges are relatively serious, you should prepare ahead of time to have someone present in the courtroom at your arraignment, to post your bail.

It is often not possible to post your own bail, because police usually confiscate all money that you possess when they arrest you. This is why you should have a trusted family member or friend in court on your behalf to post bail at your arraignment.

In New York City, if bail is set, and no one is immediately present to post bail at the courthouse, you’ll be taken to jail and held there. If no one posts your bail, you’ll remain in jail until your bail is changed, which might not be until your case is resolved.

If your bail is affordable, you’ll arrange to have someone post it for you. However, by planning in advance, you can arrange to have your bail posted in the courthouse, moments after the judge sets it.

If bail is set in an amount that you can afford, but you haven’t arranged in advance to have someone post it immediately at the courthouse, then you’ll remain in custody until someone posts it at the jail. This will add many hours, if not days, to the amount of time you spend in custody.

Posting bail at jail typically requires many hours of standing and waiting on line. Posting bail at the courthouse typically takes a few minutes, in friendlier surroundings. The experience is less unpleasant for the person posting your bail if you’ve arranged for it to happen at the courthouse.

I advise clients and their family members to have someone present in court at the arraignment, with cash in hand to post as bail. If the cash isn’t needed, then the funds can be returned to wherever they came from. However, if the judge sets bail, funds will be immediately available to post at the courthouse, reducing your time in custody by at least several hours.


Bruce Yerman is a New York City criminal defense attorney.

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