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Jailed In Washington? You Have A Right To A Bail Bondsman

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This file photo shows the Washington state Supreme Court in Olympia, Washington.

You’ve heard of your Miranda rights, but did you know that most state constitutions also give you a right to a bail bondsman?

In a unanimous ruling Thursday, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed that criminal defendants can go to a third-party, like a bondsman, who will put up bail for a fee.

Technically, you don't actually have a right to a bail bondsman. But if a judge sets bail, you do have a right to something called “sufficient sureties.” That’s legal speak for a third party who will pony up the cash to get you sprung.

This Washington ruling stems from a case where a judge told a man if he wanted to bail out of jail, he had to post 10 percent of the bond directly with the court, meaning he wasn't given an option to go to a bail bondsman.

Attorney Jeff Coopersmith with Davis Wright Tremaine took the case to the Washington Supreme Court.

“It’s not going to mean that all defendants are released,” he said. “But it’s going to at least give the defendant this option to negotiate a fee with a commercial bail bonding company.”

Coopersmith says for poor defendants in particular, that could mean the difference between awaiting trial at home instead of in jail.

On the flip side are some prosecutors who’ve argued for what they call “truth in bail.” This concept got some traction after Arkansas parolee Maurice Clemmons bailed out of jail in 2009, then shot and killed four Lakewood police officers.

Not all criminal defendants in Washington are eligible for bail. This Supreme Court ruling only affects cases where the judge sets bail.


Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.

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