“If I go to jail tonight, promise you’ll pay my bail.”[1]

Ahh, the signs of true love: don’t worry hunny, if you go to jail, I will bail you out. Often times, however, the bail process is not so easy. Especially in Minnesota.

Importantly, every arrest does not trigger bail. Just because a cop places you in handcuffs and transports you to the police station, does not mean someone will have to bail you out. Sorry Kanye, if you go to jail, find your own ride home. Sometimes, the police book and release people, give them a citation on the scene, or the prosecutor mails a summons and complaint for you to appear in court.

In Minnesota, the two biggest factors for determining whether bail will be set are: (1) where the offense happened; and (2) the type and level of offense. Jurisdictionally, whether bail is required varies from county to county, and even from judge to judge within the county.


In Hennepin County, for example: a person is arrested early Saturday morning for Third Degree DWI Gross Misdemeanor, because they had an alcohol concentration of .16 or more within two hours of driving. After the arrest and evidentiary test for alcohol concentration, the officer will often take that person to booking and have them stay in jail. A reviewing judge will then come in the morning and review all files for people in custody and determine whether to set bail or hold the person for court. If the judge decided to set bail in this scenario it would be $12,000, which is quadruple the fine of a Gross Misdemeanor (Minn. Stat. 629.471, subd. 2(a)). Because the same judge does not review files every weekend in Hennepin County, the results can differ from weekend to weekend.

Dakota County’s process is a little different. Dakota County has an on-call judge for the weekends. Attorneys can call the judge and ask that bail be set for their client. The judge will ask for information regarding your client’s offense and history. Then, the judge will often call the jail to verify the information before calling the attorney back with their decision. Again, because the judges vary within the county, so can the results. In some counties, there is not a process in place to reach a judge on the weekend, unless you know one personally.

In some jurisdictions, the jail has a process in place to automatically set bail for certain offenses without judicial review. Some counties have websites where you can look up who is in custody and whether bail has been set. In other places, calling the jail and asking the custody status of an individual is the best practice.

Part II of the blog series “Bail Me Out!” will review the second main factor in determining whether bail is set: the type and level of offense. Part III will explain bond procedures and the thirty-six and forty-eight hour rules.

Robert H. Ambrose is a criminal defense attorney in Minneapolis, Minnesota. If you go to jail tonight, he does not promise to pay your bail. But, he does promise to take your phone call and advise you on the process of getting out of custody. The American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys named Attorney Ambrose a “Ten Best” Attorney under 40 in Minnesota for Client Satisfaction.

[1] FourFiveSeconds, Rihanna featuring Kanye West and Paul McCartney (Roc Nation 2015).


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