Ideally, if you have to be arrested, you would want to have the means to both bail yourself out and hire a good criminal attorney right away. Unfortunately, a lot of people don't have the means to do both. Studies indicate that only about 39% of Americans have the cash on hand to deal with a $1000 emergency, and paying a bail bondsman and an attorney's retainer could easily come out to more than $1000. So, if you're arrested and you can't afford to both bail yourself out and hire an attorney, which one should you choose to spend your money on? There are some very compelling reasons why bail should be your priority.
The Constitution Guarantees You A Lawyer
The most obvious reason to call a bail bondsman instead of a lawyer if you can't afford both is that you are guaranteed the right to an attorney even if you can't afford one. If you're a US citizen arrested in the United States, the Constitution entitles you to the services of an attorney, and every state has public defenders who represent people who are accused of crimes and can't afford their own attorneys.
It's true that the public defender system isn't perfect. Public defenders are frequently overworked and operating with small budgets. However, public defenders are also qualified, experienced, and often passionate about the work they do. They're a far better option than no legal representation. And there's no equivalent for bail—if you can't pay your bail or pay a bail bondsman's fee, you'll remain in jail until your case is complete. If you can't afford both, it makes sense to choose to pay bail first, since you can have a lawyer whether you can afford one or not.
You Can Always Hire A New Lawyer Later
Even if you have a complex case that you don't want to leave to the Public Defender's office or you have a preference for a particular private criminal attorney, it's still a good idea to pay your bail first. Once you're out of jail, you can explore other options that will help you hire the attorney that you prefer. Bailing out of jail may allow you to continue to go to work and earn money to pay the attorney you prefer. You may be able to borrow money for attorney's fees or even crowdfund your legal defense. But it's difficult and often impossible to do any of that while you're sitting behind bars.
Even if you think you'd rather not have a public defender represent you in a trial, there's no reason not to use a public defender for your arraignment or bail hearing, and use your cash to bail yourself out of jail. By all means, make sure you have legal representation as soon as possible after being arrested, but start with a public defender. You may be pleasantly surprised and decide to stick with them. But even if you're not, it will be much easier to come up with the money for a private attorney once you're out of jail, so prioritize making bail.
Staying in Jail Increases Your Chances of a Conviction
The most urgent reason why you should prioritize bail if you can't afford both bail and an attorney is that not paying bail and staying in a cell could hurt your chances of being acquitted of the charges you're facing.
If you can't afford to pay your bail or pay a bail bondsman's fee, you could sit in jail for days, weeks, or even months. In some cases, people have had to wait for years to go to trial. And the longer you wait, the worse your position becomes.
People who are jailed pretrial are more likely to wind up with a conviction. The nonfelony conviction rate increases from 50% to 92% for those jailed until trial, and the felony conviction rate rises from 59% to 85%. Sitting in jail separates you from your family and other support systems, removes your ability to work and earn money, and gives prosecutors leverage to pressure you to make a deal. You're more likely to agree to a plea deal if you're stuck in jail and desperate to get back to your job, kids, or family. On the other hand, if the case against you is weak, bailing out may make prosecutors more likely to drop the charges because they won't have the same leverage against you to convince you to plead out.
It's rarely a good idea to try to ride it out in jail if you don't have to. If you can't afford the full amount of your bail, you can get released by paying a bail bondsman a small percentage of the full bail amount. That way you'll be free and better able to coordinate your own legal defense. To learn more about bail, check out websites like https://www.bradsbailbonds.com.