A Defendant’s Release on Bail with Conditions

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Bail conditions are normally designed to serve one of two purposes: to ensure the defendant comes to court or protection of the community. Judges typically have lots of leeway in deciding what conditions are reasonably necessary to accomplish these purposes.


A person who’s arrested and thrown in jail generally has the right release on bail. Usually, bailing out involves paying the bail amount (or contracting with a bail bondsman to post bail) or putting up real property as collateral.  Alternatively, a judge can order release from jail without requiring bail, based on the defendant’s promise to come back for court. When a judge does this, it’s called release on one’s “own recognizance”.

With both forms of release—bail and OR—judges can, and often do, impose conditions that the defendant must follow while the court case is pending. Bail laws and procedures differ by jurisdiction, but here’s generally how it works with bail conditions.

Typical Conditions

The bail conditions that a judge imposes will ordinarily depend on the facts of the case. But some of the more common conditions require defendants to:

  • obey all laws
  • refrain from drug and alcohol use and/or participate in testing
  • not possess any weapons
  • stay away from certain places or people
  • maintain or seek employment
  • follow a curfew, and
  • comply with specific travel restrictions.

In deciding which conditions are appropriate, a judge will normally consider a variety of factors. These factors might include:

  • the defendant’s criminal history
  • the defendant’s physical and mental condition
  • seriousness and nature of the crime the defendant is accused of committing
  • likelihood that the defendant will flee the jurisdiction, and
  • whether the defendant has a history of substance abuse.

The law generally leaves it up to judges to decide which bail conditions are reasonable. But there are limits—bail conditions that unreasonably interfere with a defendant’s constitutional rights are invalid.


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