Some form of bail must be set in all misdemeanor, felony or homicide cases in Pennsylvania. By far the most common form of bail is ROR, especially here in Centre County, where we have a lot of non-violent offenses like DUI, small amount of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. ROR stands for "released on own recognizance." That means that the defendant need not post any form of cash bail. Rather, the defendant must simply promise to appear at all future court proceedings.
In order to understand when ROR bail is appropriate, you need to understand the underlying purpose of bail. The purpose of bail is to assure that a defendant will appear in court. If a person is either deemed to be a significant flight risk or a danger to the community, or even a danger to himself, then the judge will set some form of cash bail. If the defendant cannot post the cash bail either through friends and family or with the assistance of a bail bondsman, then he will be brought from the county jail to each court proceeding. If he is incarcerated, then there is no way he will miss court. If a defendant is able to post cash bail, but fails to appear in court, then he loses all the bail money he or his supporters posted for him. Thus, he has a financial incentive to appear in court.
People who are granted ROR bail do not pose a threat to the community or to themselves, and they can be trusted to appear in court. This is because they will usually be in a much worse situation should they fail to appear. For example, a high percentage of people granted ROR bail are eligible for a first time offenders program known as ARD, which stands for "Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition." Successful completion of the ARD program will result in dismissal of the charges, and will allow the defendant's attorney to seek expungement of the charges. Other defendants with ROR bail may not be eligible for ARD, but they have a good chance of receiving a sentence of probation. Defendants otherwise eligible for ARD or probation who fail to appear in court could ruin the possibility of a positive resolution to their cases. Therefore, they can be trusted to appear in court without some form of collateral in place.
Matt McClenahen is a criminal defense lawyer in State College, Pennsylvania. He limits his caseload to criminal law matters. http://www.mattmlaw.com/About-Attorney-McClenahen/