I am keenly interested in this issue as a New Orleans criminal defense lawyer.
The Eighth Amendment clearly states that “excessive” bail shall not be required. Furthermore, the more serious the crime, the more the amount of bail will actually be required. Thus, a fixed amount of bail is set in almost every Louisiana criminal case, the only typical exception being first degree murder.
In Louisiana, there are three types of bonds that can be posted to secure a person's pretrial release; property, cash, or commercial. Most often, people who are arrested use a commercial bond. This involves paying approximately 12.5% of the amount of bail set to a commercial bail bondsman.
There is a growing movement in this country to either eliminate or radically change the cash bail systems currently in place. Many have argued that cash bail is essentially a tax on the poor. It is certainly true that many people who are arrested, particularly for serious crimes, do not have the resources to secure their release. I have seen this firsthand in doing contract work for the Orleans Public Defenders. The poor are also arguably more likely to lose jobs and/or housing due to being unable to afford bail. Many people that cannot afford bail unquestionably plead to crimes they did not commit simply to get out of jail. These are problems that are inherent in the system as currently situated.
New Jersey is seeking to change this. It appears that most criminal defendants are now being released without bail (but possibly with restrictions) for monitoring by pretrial services. Those who are accused of serious crimes or who are deemed to be serious flight risks are held without bail. The bail bond industry, naturally, is pushing back against this. As we all know, the bail bond industry does not have a particularly good reputation. I have several friends that are bail bondsmen, and they are good people. If what is happening in New Jersey happens in Louisiana, however, my friends would be out of business. In New Jersey, the change to the bail bond system was overhauled by statewide referendum. I believe that it is hard to justify indulging the arguments of bail bondsmen when the changes to the system were approved by a majority of New Jersey citizens. Similarly, as a person that is concerned with the state of the criminal justice system in this county, I am extremely concerned about the effects of the cash bail system on those that have fewer resources than others. I do not believe that people that cannot afford bail should be held until trial merely because they cannot afford bail. If they are accused of an extremely serious crime or are obviously a significant flight risk, that is another story, but as it stands now, I would welcome changes to the system here in Louisiana.