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Laws » How Does Posting Bail Work in California?
2021 Update for California: People can no longer be incarcerated solely because they cannot afford bail. Clear and convincing evidence is required to show that detention is necessary to protect public safety. See In Re. Kenneth Humphrey on Habeas Corpus, (March 25, 2021).
2020 Update for Los Angeles County: Except in serious or violent felony cases, most arrestees will be released without having to pay bail. Learn more in our California bail article.
Bail is a payment of money that allows a person in police custody to be released. When someone is arrested and awaiting trial, the judge will make a determination if bail will be set, the defendant will be released on their own recognizance, or if they will remain in custody.
In California, bail amounts will be determined by not only the crime involved, but by what county the court is in. Ultimately, the judge has a large degree of discretion on setting the amount.
Types of Bonds
When the court sets bail, the defendant will have the choice of how they are going to pay bail, if at all. Of course they can pay the amount by cash (CA Penal Code 1269), but most people do not have a large sum of money available for this.
A bail bond is an agreement between the defendant and the bail bondsman. The defendant promises to appear at all upcoming court appearances, and the bail bondsman agrees to pay the bond for them to the court. The cost to the defendant is a percentage of the actual bail due. In California, the highest percentage a bondsman can charge is 10%.
A property bond is used when the defendant has an ownership interest in a piece of property and puts it up for collateral to the bondsman. Usually, the value of the property needs to be at least twice the amount of the bond needed. If the defendant fails to appear, a lien will be filed on the property and could be foreclosed upon.
There are very few acceptable excuses for not appearing in court as promised. If you do not appear at the required times, your bail money will be forfeited and a bench warrant issued for your arrest. There are a few acceptable reasons not to appear which include, severe illness, insanity, disability or if you are in custody in another jurisdiction.
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, Court TV, 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.
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