As a rule, bail in Massachusetts is set by a clerk, an assistant clerk or a judge. Clerk’s and assistant clerk’s set bail after a person is arrested and held either at a police station or jail and prior to the person being arraigned on the pending criminal charge. Judges set bail after arraignment usually at the request of the assistant district attorney but sometimes on their own volition. The purpose of bail is to ensure the defendant’s appearance at future court appearances. Several factors are considered prior to imposing bail. Roots in the community, the nature of the case, the criminal history of the accused, prior defaults, risk of flight and the safety of the community constitute the majority of issues taken into consideration when setting bail. Courts also look to see if the defendant has any pending cases at the time of the commission of the crime.
The range of terms for an order of bail varies significantly. I have had judges impose a bail of fifty dollars on my clients. I have also had clients held without bail. This is most often for extremely violent crimes. For crimes that have considerable mandatory minimum sentences judges might hold the defendant without bail particularly if the accused is not a citizen of the United States. Orders of bail that cannot be paid by the defendant are often appealed to the superior court as a matter of right. There do exist further appellate rights for bails that people want to challenge, i.e. to the Appeals Court, however this right is rarely exercised and even less frequently successful.
Sometimes judges set bail orders with attached conditions that are absurd but not likely to get reversed. I recently represented a motorcycle gang member who was released over the objection of the prosecutor to bail conditions that bordered on ridiculous. The client was ordered to wear an electronic monitoring device. He could not leave his home. He could not go to work. He could not use a cell phone. Notwithstanding a recent back surgery he could not take his prescription medications without the express permission of the probation department and the judge who set the conditions of bail. Nevertheless the client opted to accept these conditions rather than await trial in jail.
Perhaps the most onerous of all bail orders pertain to sex offenses. Almost everyone who is charged with a sex crime and is able to post bail is forced to wear a GPS device. The defendant is often not permitted to go within a specified distance from schools, parks, playgrounds or children. This distance ranges but five hundred feet is not uncommon. While this might not present a large burden to someone who resides in a rural area it is nearly impossible to honor for people who live in cities such as Boston or Lawrence. In these cases, once the defendant is out of custody we try to get the judge to modify the conditions to permit the defendant to work and live in areas that otherwise would constitute a violation of the bail conditions.