Upon arrest bail will be set by a magistrate or judge in most cases.
Bond and bail guidelines are governed by Article 26 of Chapter 15A of the North Carolina General Statutes, and by local rules as established by the Chief Resident Superior Court Judge and Chief District Court Judge of each judicial district.
A defendant charged with a noncapital (i.e., not charged with First Degree Murder) must have conditions of pretrial release determined in accordance with 15A-534.
15A-534 establishes that a judge or magistrate must allow the defendant released on a written promise to appear (own recognizance), on an unsecured bond, or into the custody of a designated person, unless the judge or magistrate finds that doing so will not reasonably assure the defendant appears for trail, will pose a danger of injury to any person, or is likely to result in destruction of evidence or intimidation of witnesses.
In other words, the default position according to the statute is that the person be released from custody.
However, too often, and especially for felonies, magistrates and judges jump straight to a secured bond, which imposes a requirement that the defendant post some amount of money to the court before he will be released.
For wealthy defendants, this is merely an incovenience. But for middle class or poor defendants, coming up with a large amount of money on short notice can be a real problem, leading to days, weeks, or even months or years in jail priot to trial.
Typically, bail is set within the first 48 hours of arrest. If someone is arrested on a non-capital and non-domestic violence-related charge, then in most cases they will have a bond set immediately by a magistrate.
A magistrate is a judicial official, but not a judge. If a magistrate sets a bond that seems high, then the defendant will appear before a District Court judge within 48 hours where that judge will review the bond.
The judge may modify the bond in virtually any way – increase it, decrease it, or establish additional requirements.
If the person can make bond at that point, then the person can do so in one of two ways. Either the person can post the entire bond amount either in cash or in property (using a Deed of Trust) or the person can hire a bondsman, who is a licensed private agent of a bonding company who will take a fee – usually 10 percent, but no more than 15 percent according to statute – in order to stand in surety for the Defendant.
Hiring a lawyer before bonding can in many cases save money, since an attorney may be able to request a lower bond, which means less money posted or less money spent on a bondsman.