Many people call our office right after a loved one has been arrested wondering how to get that person out of jail, and once they’re out how to keep their loved one out of jail. This post answers common questions about Wisconsin’s bail system.
So what is bail?
Bail is the amount of cash that a defendant must post to be released from jail. Wisconsin does not allow bail bond agencies to post bond for defendants. Unlike other states where the defendant pays ten percent to a bail bondsman who posts the rest, the amount of cash bond is what a defendant must post to be released from jail.
Bond is the document that every defendant must sign in order to be released from custody. It contains the amount of the bail, and conditions that a person must follow in order to stay out of jail. Mandatory conditions include not committing any new crimes and showing up in person for future court appearances.
Other common conditions could include drug and alcohol testing, staying away from alleged victims and their property, wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet, and not driving a motor vehicle if you don’t have a license.
Who sets bail?
Defendants arrested for misdemeanor offenses are generally allowed to post bond without waiting for Court. Wisconsin has a uniform cash bail schedule that many departments follow. Most people arrested for relatively minor offenses like misdemeanor battery, misdemeanor OWI, disorderly conduct, and misdemeanor possession of marijuana are able to pay bond without having to wait overnight to see a judge. Police officers also have the authority to authorize a signature bond that releases a suspect with a court date to appear in the future.
Felony arrests are another story. If someone is arrested for a felony offense, he or she will generally be held in jail until going to Court. A judge or court commissioner will set the amount of bail and any conditions of bond.
What is the difference between a cash bond and a signature bond?
Bonds come in two basic forms: cash and signature. Both will have an amount of cash, but someone who receives a signature bond does not have to pay any cash in order to be released. However, if a person is released on a signature bond and fails to follow the conditions of bond, he or she could be required to pay the dollar amount on the bond as a penalty.
A cash bond is exactly what it sounds like. A suspect will not be released from jail unless someone posts the full amount of the cash requirement on the bond.
What is a Riverside review? When do I get to see the judge?
48 hours after someone is arrested the police are required to submit a brief written statement to a judge or court commissioner to assure them that there is probable cause to hold a suspect in jail. This is known as a “Riverside” review. A Riverside review is conducted solely by paper and an arrested person will not be brought in front of a judge, have an opportunity to comment, or even view the allegations at that time.
Most defendants see a judge or court commissioner the day after an arrest, but under certain circumstances it can take longer. Most counties do not have court officials available on weekends or holidays to set bail.
What will the judge consider when setting bail?
The judge will consider a person’s ties to the community, including where a person lives, the length of time someone has lived in the community, whether the person is employed or receiving services, a person’s criminal history, and the nature of the allegations. While everyone has a constitutional right to a reasonable bail, what is reasonable will vary case by case. You can expect most judges to impose higher cash bonds on serious felony charges or when a defendant has a history of not appearing for court.
How is bail handled in La Crosse County?
Most defendants who are arrested and held overnight will see a representative from Justice Support Services to conduct a bond report. The purpose of the bond report is to identify a person’s risk of not appearing in court and recommend a general range of bail and specific conditions for a judge to impose. Nobody is required to talk to Justice Support Services and the judge is not bound by any recommendations that they make, but many people do benefit from participating in the pretrial release evaluation.
If someone is arrested over the weekend, a duty judge will get an email with the basic facts of the arrest and make a decision on whether someone can be released before intake court on Monday. This process occurs by email (or rarely when an officer testifies before the judge over the weekend), and a suspect will not be present or notified of what the judge considered. People who do not get out of jail usually see the intake judge at 1:30 p.m. the following business day.
How can I post bail for somebody?
Anyone can post bond on behalf of a defendant during normal business hours at the Clerk of Court or Sheriff’s office. They accept cash, bank check and money orders.
La Crosse County will only accept credit card payments online in an amount of $10,000 or less or in person in amounts of $2500.00 or less. Credit card transactions carry nonrefundable fees exceeding ten percent of the transaction.
After hours you can post most bonds online. Contact the Sheriff’s Department of the relevant county and they should be able to direct you to the appropriate website for posting cash bond.
Why do we have these things?
Bail is all about making sure a defendant appears for court. It’s a very simple form of collateral: you or a loved one post money and if you don’t live up to your agreement to show up in court the State takes your money. Generally the more a defendant has to lose, the greater the cash bond to make sure he or she shows up in the future.
Bond is all about protecting the community. Certain conditions are set to make sure that a defendant who is released will not harm others.
If I screw up on bond will Dog the Bounty Hunter come for me?
Wisconsin prohibits bail bondsmen and bounty hunters, so you don’t have to worry about Dog showing up and dousing you with bear mace. However, bond violations are treated seriously and it is important to work with an attorney to immediately take care of any missed court appearances, positive drug tests, or other violations so that the problem doesn’t get worse.