Bond Court – Assembly Line Justice

Bond court is depressing…not that being in a criminal courtroom isn’t usually depressing on some level, but bond court is just a meatpacking plant of justice.

To watch a bond court hearing is to wonder whether anyone is listening to each other. Now, I’ll give the judges the benefit of the doubt here…but I frequently wonder whether anything I’m saying means a damn thing.

The traditional bond court hearing involves each side making their case to the judge as to what bond should be set at. The actual length of time of your average bond court hearing? Less than five minutes. I understand that there are hundreds of these a day and the judge is not going to get into your life story. But these hearings are pro forma, to say the least.

First the state goes…and they’ll do two things. Read off your prior conviction record and whether you’ve ever failed to come to court…and what you’re charged with. If it’s violent, good luck. If it it involves a weapon, also good luck. If you’ve failed to appear before a judge before, good luck. If you’re currently on bond, then even more luck my friend, because you probably aren’t getting out, unless you have a serious bank roll.

Then I go. What do I do for you? I tell them that you have “long standing ties to the community.” This means your family lives here, you graduated from high school here, you’ve been here more than 5 years or so, and have a reason to stay. I’m here to try to convince the judge that you’re not a flight risk (or a danger to the community). If you’ve been a shooting rampage, or are a serial rapist, no hope for you. But usually, if your crime isn’t violent you should get a bond between $500 and $5000.

Now, Illinois does not have bail bondsmen. Only four states in the county do not, and we are one of them. What this means is that you put up 10% of the bond, if you get a D bond (detainer). There are also I-Bonds and recognizance bonds, neither of which require you to pay anything. We’re talking about D bonds here. You put up your 10% (say the bond is $20,000D, you put up $2000) and then, if you keep coming to court, you will get it back at the end of the trial. Oh, the county will keep 10% of that, thank you, for their own purposes.

Here’s the thing. If you’re at 26th and California, you might only “appear” in the courtroom on a closed circuit TV. Same thing at 555 W. Harrison (the domestic abuse court). Your lawyer, if you haven’t hired one already, knows little about you, even less if they’re a public defender. The whole proceeding is over in a flash, and the judge just throws out the amount of the bond. You, the defendant, are going to be either upset, or happy, or confused.

My clients rarely call me in time to make a bond hearing. Unless you get arrested with a family member, or were carrying my card already, how can you get a hold of me? I frequently find myself dashing all over the county trying to find clients whose family members have called me the day of their bond hearing. This is usually too late.

The lesson to be learned is this. There are no miracles worked at a bond hearing. Not your initial one. Later, your attorney can petition the court to lower the bond…and I’d say the success rate at this is about 65%. Better than half the time it happens, but it all depends on what you, the defendant, did.


2 responses to “Bond Court – Assembly Line Justice

  1. Pingback: Your Preliminary Hearing « 26th St. Bar Association

  2. Pingback: Types of Bonds in Chicago and Why You Won’t Walk Out of Cook County Jail « 26th St. Bar Association

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