Virginia Criminal Justice System: Meeting a Magistrate
The two main factors Magistrates consider when deciding whether to release a person on bail or hold them in jail are the degree to which the person presents a risk of flight and the perceived risk to the community. Persons who have strong ties to the community such as those who have been in the area for a long time, have a stable job, a family, own a home, etc. are generally considered to present less of a risk of flight than someone who has just moved to the area, has no job or family in the area and is currently sleeping on a friend’s couch. Similarly, persons charged with relatively minor non-violent offenses who have never been in trouble with the law before are generally thought to present less of a risk to the community than those charged with serious violent felony offenses while on probation for another offense. After considering these, and many other factors, the Magistrate will make the initial decision about conditions of release.
Some people are released on their own recognizance, which means they just have to promise to appear in court and don’t have to pay any money as long as they actually do come to court. Others may have to post a cash bond or pay a fee to a bondsman for a bail bond in order to ensure their appearance at trial. Others are held in jail if the magistrate believes they are dangerous or likely not to appear for trial.