The Complete Guide to Everything You Need to Know about Bail Bonds

Get someone who's been arrested out of jailIf a loved one or friend has been arrested then you’ll most likely need to secure a bail bond to help get them out of jail. Unless you’ve dealt with the court system before chances are you learned everything you know about bail bonds from watching tv. There’s quite a bit more to the process than a judge banging his gavel and yelling “Bail is set at $10,000!”.

What is Bail?

In the simplest terms, bail is an agreement between the court and the defendant. The defendant agrees to show up to all their scheduled court dates and the court agrees to return the defendant’s money once the trial is finished. If bail is set at $10,000 then the defendant can pay that amount to the court in exchange for being released from prison. If the accused doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain and misses even one court date, they will immediately forfeit the $10,000 and a warrant will be issued for their arrest. However, if they do show up for all the hearings they will get all their money back at the end of the trial even if they’re convicted.

If the defendant is not able to pay the amount needed to be released from jail they will remain there until the case is over. Since it can take months for most trials to begin from the time of arrest, making bail is the number one priority for most defendants. The problem for a lot of people is that they don’t have enough cash on hand to get out. Because of this, most people use bail bonds to get released from prison.

How do They Work?

find out how to get family members or of jail

They’re similar to a loan in that you put down a small percentage of the total amount and a lender, known as a bondsman or bail agent, puts down the remainder. So for the $10,000 bail you, a loved one, or friend might pay the bondsman $1,000 and they would then pay the entire $10,000 amount to the court. In addition to the $1,000, you would need to provide enough collateral to make up the $9,000 difference in the event you skip and don’t show up for a court date. Collateral is usually something like a deed to a house, car, or jewelry. When your case is over the $10,000 is returned to the bondsman.

Because the bondsman is accepting most of the financial risk they take a number of precautions to ensure that you make all your court dates. First, they prefer to have a friend or relative put up the collateral for the bond. The thinking is that you will be less likely to miss a court date if a relative’s house is on the line rather than just their own property. Second, they will call you before each court date to remind you about the upcoming hearing. And third, they may require periodic check-ins at their office to make sure you haven’t left town. Most people agree these precautions are a small price to pay for being released from jail.

If you do skip a hearing or try to flee and the bondsman is not able to get in contact with you afterwards they will most likely hire a bounty hunter to track you down and return you to custody.

bail is set by a judgeWhen is Bail Set?

When someone is arrested they’re immediately booked into jail. What that means is that their name and personal information is entered into the police computer, their picture and fingerprints are taken, and their personal belongings are held in impound. They’re then given a sobriety test, allowed to make one phone call, and then locked in a cell. A hearing is scheduled at which point a judge will determine how much bail should be. It is usually set within 48 hours of arrest.

How is the Amount Determined?

Most jurisdictions have a bail schedule that is used to determine the amount. For example, in LA, the Superior Court of Los Angeles County would set it at $20,000 if you were accused of felony with a maximum possible sentence of 3 years in jail. The hearing judge has considerable leeway when setting bail though and can take external circumstances into account. For example, if this was your first offense, you’re gainfully employed, and you have family in the area, the judge may choose to reduce the bail amount or discard it completely. However, if you have multiple offenses on your record and the judge believes you may be a flight risk they can increase bail or revoke it.

Some jurisdictions assign bail as soon as a suspect is booked without waiting for a hearing. This usually only applies to low level offenses. You will be informed by the police if you are able to post immediately and you may even be able to pay for it with a credit card.

bondsmanHow to Secure a Bond

If the amount set is more than you or a family member can afford then securing a bail bond may be your best option. To find a company that will help get someone out of jail you can search online or the jail may have a listing you can use as a reference. While you’ll want to secure a bond as quickly as possible it’s important to ask a few questions before deciding on a company to work with. Doing so could save you a considerable amount of money.

Agents make most of their money by charging a bond premium. The premium is generally 10-20% of the amount of the bond and is non-refundable. Even if the accused shows up to all their hearings and are acquitted you’ll never get that money back. Finding a bondsman with a low premium can save thousands of dollars. On top of the premium there may be application or initiation fees which you’ll want to know about ahead of time.

While worrying about money may seem insensitive while a loved one or friend is behind bars remember that court is not cheap and you’ll most likely need to pay attorney fees along with a host of other legal costs. Saving money now will allow you to spend more on the defense later.

Different Types of Bonds

There are a number of different bond types:

  • Surety Bond: Agents work with insurance companies who provide the financial backing for the bonds. A bail bond that is secured by an insurance company is known as a surety bond.
  • Property Bond: If a defendant has property, like a house, they may be able to use it in place of putting down cash. The court will put a lien on the home and will be able to sell it if the defendant skips out on any court dates.
  • Release on Own Recognizance: In some instance a judge may release the defendant without setting bail. This usually only happens when the defendant is accused of a low level crime and they’re not considered a flight risk.
  • Cite Out: If a suspect is caught doing something illegal an officer may issue them a citation requiring them to appear in court in lieu of booking them in to jail.
  • Immigration Bond: If someone you know has been detained by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) department an immigration bond can get them released until their hearing is complete.

Hopefully this guide has helped answer all the questions you had about why most people use bonds to get out of jail but if you need  any more information be sure to check out the FAQ page here.

 

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Clive Johnson

Clive is a bail expert from the Tucson area who started this site to correct a number of myths about the industry. He's also a family man with a wife and three kids. When he's not working he spends his time on the golf course or at the Rotary club.