Most people don’t understand how bail works, and when they need that knowledge, they usually have more pressing problems. What you know from watching TV isn’t enough.
In a nutshell, although you or your loved one may be arrested, the court can set bail to allow you to be released. Bail is the court’s way of giving itself some assurance that the person charged will return to court. Depending on a variety of factors, including your ties to the community, criminal history, and history of appearing in court, among others, the court will set bail in a monetary amount. That amount of money will need to be posted to obtain release from jail. When all proceedings and trials are complete, if you have complied with all requirements, you get your money back. Bail is a centuries-old system which recognizes that nobody wants jails filled with people simply awaiting trial.
How much do you need to pay? That depends on the circumstances of each case; in other cases the judge has discretion to set the bail amount. If bail is set higher than you can afford, you will meet the Bail Bondsman, whose business is an integral part of making it all work. Sometimes your attorney can get you released on your own recognizance, meaning you do not need to post any bail. Alternatively, some courts have pretrial release programs where no money needs to be posted, but the person charged must comply with certain conditions to stay released.
It is in your best interest to have your bail set as low as possible, for obvious reasons. Hiring a criminal defense attorney early can help accomplish this.
Defense lawyers can raise issues with the court that would help lower your bail amount, or even remove the bail requirement entirely. Your lawyer can discuss the specifics of your case with the prosecutors before the bail hearing, and before your first appearance before the judge. Busy judges are likely to give more weight to the statements of an attorney than to those of a self-representing defendant. In these discussions with opposing counsel, and with the judge, your defense attorney knows from experience what is persuasive, and when to raise which issues. Money spent on counsel is often money saved from bail.