Bail is money or other property that serves as a guarantee that a criminal defendant will appear for a hearing or trial. Bail is typically assessed shortly after arrest, though can also be set later in the proceedings. The defendant “posts” bail by paying the amount set by the judge (or hiring a bondsman to pay it). At the conclusion of the proceeding (usually, the end of the case), the bail money is returned. If the defendant fails to appear as required under the bail terms, the bail is forfeited.
Bail may not be required in cases of minor crimes, where the accused may be released on his or her own recognizance. For the most serious crimes, such as murder, bail may not be set at all, requiring the accused to be held in custody pending trial.
It is less common, though possible, for bail to be set after a conviction, pending an appeal.
The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits “excessive” bail, setting grounds for appeal of bail that the defendant believes is unfair or unwarranted by the circumstances.