What Is Unsecured Bail?

By Chuck Ayers - Updated June 15, 2017
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Different states have different laws on whether to allow a person charged with a crime free on bail, and under what conditions. Unsecured bail is bail not secured by real property, by a note posted by a bail bondsman or by cash. The purpose of setting bail is to assure the appearance of a defendant at judicial proceedings. Though bail may be unsecured, there are different nuances in different states' laws. There are two main types of unsecured bail: one allows a defendant to go free on his word that he will return to face charges at a time determined by the court, and the other is considered signature bond, whereby the defendant signs a bond guaranteeing appearance at a later date.

Own Recognizance

"Released on recognizance" is referred to as ROR in most courts. The defendant doesn't have to pay any money, but he signs a bond that assures he will appear at future court appearances. If the defendant does not appear, he is liable for paying the amount of the bond.

Usually, a bench warrant is issued for the person's arrest. A bench warrant means that police don't actively seek the defendant, but if another offense is committed or police otherwise recognize the defendant, he will be brought to court. Although it is considered unsecured, it is actually secured by the bond.

ROR Nuance

Some states, such as Pennsylvania, require only a signature promising you will appear at future court dates, without requiring a signature on a bond. The peculiarity in Pennsylvania is that a bail amount is set a particular amount (usually $10,000 or less) because a stated bail amount is statutory. In such cases, the court refers to the bail as ROR bail. In court, the nomenclature would be something like $10,000 ROR bail.

Signature Bond

This is very similar to ROR bail and is often referred to as signature bail. The defendant must still sign a bond promising appearance at future court dates. But if she fails to appear and a bench warrant is issued, she will be required to pay the amount of the bond. It is still considered unsecured, in that the defendant is freed based on her word even though it is ultimately secured by a bond.

Considerations

Among the factors considered by a judge before granting unsecured bail are the defendant's standing in the community; the severity of the crime; the likelihood of flight; the potential threat a defendant might pose to the health, safety and welfare of the community; and any prior criminal record.

Juveniles

Unless the offense is egregious, of if the juvenile has been in trouble many times before or refuses to defer to the court's authority, there is a good chance he will be released without bail to the custody of his parents or guardian. However, the parents might be required to sign documents similar to ROR or signature bail papers, promising that he will appear at future court dates.

About the Author

Chuck Ayers began writing professionally in 1982, breathing life into obituaries, becoming a political and investigative reporter at a major East Coast metropolitan newspaper. He now freelances and is a California communications and political consultant. He graduated from American University, Washington, D.C., with degrees in political science and economics.

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