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Bail bonds work by allowing a defendant to post bail that he or she would not have otherwise been able to afford. The bail bondsman posts the full amount on the defendant’s behalf. The defendant pays the bail bondsman a percentage of the bail amount – usually 10 percent. This payment is nonrefundable. The bondsman usually secures the bond with collateral.
What is a bail bond?
A bail bond is a courtpayment by a bail bonds company on a criminal defendant’s behalf. This makes it a type of surety bond.
Bail is the amount of money that a defendant has to post in order to be released from county jail before trial. If the defendant posts bail and then appears at all required court appearances and complies with the terms of his or her release, the bail money will be refunded. If the defendant fails to appear at a required court date, they forfeit the full bond amount.
Bail bonds are a way for defendants to post bail when their financial situation is too strained to pay it on their own.
For example: Max is arrested for allegedly assaulting Nancy. The judge sets bail at $20,000. Max does not have $20,000. He may benefit from getting a bail bond.
By using a bail bond, defendants can post bail. This lets them get out of jail before their trial. However, to get a bail bond, defendants have to pay a percentage of the bail amount. Unlike bail, this percentage is nonrefundable, even if the defendant complies with all of the terms of pretrial release.
What is the bail bond process?
After the judge sets bail, the defendant can contact a bail bondsman. The bondsman, also known as a bail bond agent, will require the defendant or a loved one to pay a percentage of the bail amount. The usual rate is 10 percent. Once the bondsman has this payment, it will start the release process. The bond agent will often secure the remainder of the bail amount with collateral. This requires the defendant to sign a contract forfeiting their property to cover the rest of the bail amount, should they skip bail.
If the defendant does not have enough property to secure the bond, the bail bond agent may turn to his or her friends or family members for collateral.
Once the bondsman has received the fee and is satisfied with the collateral, he or she will post bail on the defendant’s behalf.
If the defendant is unable to cover the fee, many licensed bail bonds agents offer payment plans and a wide range of payment options. These include credit cards, debit cards, and cash bail money.
What does a bail bondsman or bail bond agent do?
A bail bondsman is a person or company that posts bail for defendants. Bondsmen are for-profit entities that make money off the fees they charge for bail bond services and for posting bail. They also make money by suing to repossess any property that was used as collateral for the bail bond.
In some states, bondsmen can also make money by bringing a defendant who has skipped bail to court. Also known as bounty hunters, these bondsmen can then collect a portion of the bond amount that the defendant forfeited.
What happens if I forfeit bail?
Defendants who get a bail bond and then forfeit bail by failing to appear in court will owe the bondsman the full amount of bail. The bond agent will also try to exercise their right to the collateral that secured the bail bond.
Bail bondsmen will often go to great lengths to make sure that the defendant appears in court before bail is forfeited. They may even check in on defendants on the morning of their court appearance. They may try to physically take the defendant to the courthouse.
If the defendant misses the court date, an arrest warrant will likely be issued. The next time law enforcement encounters the defendant, they will execute the warrant. If the underlying offense was a misdemeanor, like a first-time driving under the influence (DUI) offense, police will rarely seek out the defendant to serve the warrant. They will actively look for the defendant if the offense was more severe.
What happens if I show up to all of my scheduled court appearances?
If the defendant satisfies all of the requirements of his or her pretrial release, the bondsman will recover the full bail amount they posted. The defendant is not entitled to the fee he or she paid to obtain the bail bond. That fee is nonrefundable.
Are there alternatives to a bail bond?
Defendants who are being held in pretrial confinement on bail that they cannot afford can request a bail reduction at the bail hearing.
In California, defendants who are in custody are entitled to a bail review hearing within 5 days of when bail was first set.1 However, if the offense was for a serious or violent felony or a domestic violence offense, prosecutors need at least 2 days of written notice before the hearing.2
The bail hearing gives defendants and their criminal defense attorneys the opportunity to ask for:
The criminal justice system in many states, including in California, give judges lots of discretion in setting bail.3 However, judges in the state of California still have to consider the following factors when setting a bail amount:
the defendant’s ability to pay,
the severity of the offense,
the defendant’s criminal record,
whether the judge thinks that the defendant will fail to appear in the future, and
Additionally, there are certain severe felonies that require the bail cost to at least a certain amount.
California Penal Code 1270.2 PC.
California Penal Code 1270.1 PC.
California Penal Code 1269c PC.
California Penal Code 1275 PC.
About the Author
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.