How Bail Works

How Bail Works

What are Bail Bonds?

It is a type of bail that is deposited through the help of a bail bond agency or bondsman. Bail Bond Agency or Bail Bondsman refers to a company or an individual who can be hired to pay a bail amount for a defendant if his or her family members are unable to deposit it. If the defendant fails to appear at the court on the date set for trial, the bondsman or bond agency can confiscate the full bail amount.

Bail bonds can be purchased in most states of the United States. However, some states like Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Nebraska, Oregon and Wisconsin do not allow buying of bail bonds.

How Do Bail Bonds Work?

When a person is arrested, a bail amount has to be paid immediately afterwards to release him or her. If the crime is less serious in nature, the arrested person may be allowed to go after being booked for crime and following payment of the bail. If the offense is serious, the amount of bail is set by a judge within 2 days of the arrest. In most cases, a friend, family member or any well-wisher fails to secure the amount needed for the defendant’s release. In such cases, a bail bonds agency can be approached to pay the bail amount on behalf of the defendant. The well-wisher of the accused has to pay a percentage of the full bail amount, as well as some collateral (in certain cases), to the bonds agent. The percentage is paid as a fee and is non-refundable. The collateral is returned once the case gets over.

However, the collateral is forfeited by the bondsman (or bonds agency) if the accused escapes to avoid standing for trial. The collateral, which is usually a car, home or any type of property, is sold off to recoup the amount paid as bail. Bail agencies use bail recovery agents to bring back the defendant for trial, through negotiations or force.

The fee that is paid to bail agencies is known as “Premium”. It is usually 10% of the total bail amount set by a court. The amount can be paid up-front or through financing. In some cases, bail bonds agencies can arrange the financing. However, financing is only provided to those who qualify for it.

Once bail bondsmen receive the “Premium”, they make arrangements for the release of the defendant. The discharge may take an hour or more, depending on factors like:

  • The nature of the case
  • The behavior of the accused
  • The release time of the jail where the defendant has been kept

Bail Collateral

The collateral for a bail bond can be a house, jewelry or any other asset that has a certain value. It is used as a loan or credit to ensure that the defendant appears in court on the date of trial. Small assets, such as jewelry, is taken up front and kept in a secure location until the case is over. Property bail, including huge movable or immovable assets, may take several weeks to be collected. The collateral is returned regardless of the conclusion of the case. It is forfeited only when the defendant “jumps” bail and fails to appear in court at the appointed date and time.

The collateral may not be returned in entirety if a premium has been paid while hiring a bail bondsman. The “premium” is usually negotiated between the defendant or the person signing for the defendant and the bail agent. The collateral is typically given back within a span of five business days once the case has come to a completion and the signee has cleared all financial responsibilities. Until that time, the collateral is held back by the bail agent associated with the bond.

Working of the Bail Bond Process

Bail bond agencies are generally approached by any friend, family member or well-wisher of a defendant. It is only in rare cases that bail bondsmen allow defendants to be a signee (the person signing the bail bond). Once a person seeks services from a bail agency, the agent usually asks for specific information about the detained person. The signee is generally asked about the name and date of birth of the accused as well as the state, city or county where he is being held. The booking number and the charge are also asked about. Agents may also enquire about the personal and professional history of the defendant. Signees may also have to provide true information about

  • Whether the defendant has been arrested before
  • Whether the defendant has jumped bail before (escaped trial after being freed on bail)
  • Whether any other bail agency has rejected bail bond service to the defendant

If the agent finds the accused to be qualified for bail, he or she will contact the authorities of the jail where the accused is being detained. The agent gets exact information about the bail and asks for “premium” from the signee. In some cases, some type of collateral may also be asked for. The collateral, usually an asset, can work as a security for the bonds agency if the defendant escapes and the bail falls through. If the accused does not have enough assets, the bail agency can use those of the signee or a well-wisher of the detained person. The assets can be in the form of cash, bond or any other property such as a home or car. It may belong to the signee or the co-signer, the person who signs the bond along with the signatory.

Once the premium (around 10% of the total bail amount) has been paid and all documents signed, the agency arranges for the release of the detained person. The discharge can take very little time or several hours, depending on:

  • The processing time of detention facilities
  • Whether or not detention facilities have their contact lines jammed with calls
  • The release time of the prison where the defendant has been kept

Bail agents generally inform the signee as soon as they make the necessary arrangements for release.

Bail Bond Documents

Bail Documents

Bail Documents

The documents associated with the bail bond process usually include:

  • Bail Bond Application
  • Bail Indemnity Agreement
  • Receipt

The client has to sign these documents if he or she intends to buy a bail bond. Once the paperwork is over, a licensed bonds agent posts the bail bond at the jail or detention facility where the defendant is held up. This will result in an immediate release for the detained person.

Jumping Bail Bond

The term “bail jumper” is used for a person who skips trial after being released on bail. Bail is generally issued on condition that the person detained for a crime would make court appearances to stand for trial. The bail works as a security for the fact that the regaining of the money or assets will work as a motivation for the person to return and stand for trial. The assets are given back as soon as the case gets over. However, there are cases when a defendant escapes trial after being released on jail. This usually happens when the person fears that he would be found guilty of the crime that he has been charged with in the first place. However, there are cases when innocent men and women escape trial due to confusion and lack of faith in judicial system. People who are released on bail and escape trial afterwards are referred to as “Bail Jumper”.

Being labeled as a “Bail Jumper” weakens the case of a defendant. If a bail agency has been instrumental for the detainee’s release, it is held responsible for bringing the accused back for trial. It is held liable for the full bail amount. The company makes a profit when the defendant appears in court and incurs a loss when he does not. In order to avoid this loss of investment, bail agencies hire a bail recovery agent (also known as a “Bounty Hunter”) to track down the Bail Jumper. The company can sell the assets deposited as collateral to get back the money it had paid for the bail. It also has the right to take legal action against the defendant for whom it had paid the bail.

The United States is the only nation that allows a bail recovery agent to track down a “Bail Jumper”.

Canceling Bail Bonds



Bail bonds are typically signed by two persons on behalf of the defendant, a signee and a co-signer. If the accused escapes trial, both these persons can be held liable for the bail amount that has been posted. If the co-signer feels there is a flight risk of the defendant, he or she can back out from the liability by submitting a request to the agency that issued the bail bond.

The steps of cancelling the bail bond are described as follows:

  • Co-signers have to contact the agency that issued the bond and fix a time and place to have the meeting and fill the request form.
  • The person has to provide a logical reason for choosing to get out of the bond. Some valid reasons include flight risk, additional charges or inability to spot the accused person. The explanation for removing self from the bail bond must be valid and detailed.
  • Co-signers have to furnish a photo ID proof to the bail agent and fill out the documents completely. They should provide complete information on the defendant out on bail. This can include any new contact numbers, locations, descriptions or information about the employer of the accused person.
  • Bond agencies usually provide a follow-up within a week. The seven-day duration provides bondsmen with the time to process the submission and remove the co-signer from the original bond. Co-signers should ask bond companies about the follow-up period.

When a co-signer opts to get out of the bond, it falls through and the defendant is imprisoned once again.

Surrendering Bail Bonds

In some cases, a person who has signed a bail bond does not wish to take responsibility for the defendant who is out on bail. In such cases, they can arrange for surrendering of the bail bond. If this happens, the defendant who is out on bail soon finds himself back in jail.

  • It is quite easy to surrender a bail bond. The process can be performed in the following steps:
  • Signatories of the bond must inform the original bail agent about their decision to surrender the defendant back to the state custody. Bonds agents usually ask a few questions to the defendant and contact the jail authorities. In certain situations, they may also get in touch with the judge associated with the case to have the bailed person returned to jail.
  • The entire process of getting the defendant back to custody may take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, depending on individual circumstances. Bail bonds agents set up a time and location for the surrender to take place.
  • The signatory has to meet the bail agent along with the defendant. The meeting can be arranged in jail or at the office of the bondsman. Bail agents can guide signees about the options that are available for them. Most of the documents are handled by bail agents. Signees have to fill out and sign certain forms associated to the process of bail surrender.

Signatories must be prepared to pay any fees associated with the process of bail bond surrender. Although only a few bondsmen charge such fees, it is better to be in a position to pay up. Once the person is turned in, the bail amount may be returned in parts or in entirety. The amount returned and the time taken for return depends on factors like the circumstances of the surrender, the state law and the policies of the specific bonds agent.

Secured and Unsecured Bail Bonds

Bail bonds are classified as Secured and Unsecured. Both of these are surety bonds and set against a huge sum of money or a big asset that forms the motivating factor for the defendant to avoid jumping bail.

A Secured bail requires the assets of either the defendant or someone signing the bond on his/her behalf. The security deposit is usually a property deed or some asset that equals the bail amount. The asset is forfeited if the bailed out person does not appear for trial in court.

An unsecured bond does not require up-front payment by either the defendant or someone signing on his behalf. Instead of making cash payment, the person paying for the bail signs the bond declaring the intention of the suspect to appear in court. The bond stands as a guarantee for the presence of the accused in court. If the defendant fails to make an appearance, the amount determined before trial as per bail bond should be paid.

The primary difference between the two types of bonds lies in the manner of payment. A secured bond requires a tangible asset, such as a property or a deed. In an unsecured bond, a cash payment is needed.

Getting Bail bond Money Back

Bail Bond People posting a bail amount for a friend or family member often feel an urge to get their money back, especially during times of monetary needs. Anyone posting a bail can do so in two ways. They can either post the bail amount directly to the court or pay a part of the actual bail through a bail agent. The time and manner of getting the bail amount back depends on the option that has been chosen.

If you have deposited bail, you can try the following steps to get it back:

  • Check the status of the case of your defendant. Check whether the accused has been acquitted on all charges or found guilty of crime. If the person has been declared an offender, you would not get a refund of your money. Rather, the deposit will be applied to the court fees of the accused.
  • If the defendant has been absolved from all charges, the entire amount that you had paid as bail will be refunded to you. This applies only if you have directly deposited bail in court. If you had hired a bail bondsman and paid the bail through him, you are not entitled to receive any refund. The 10-20% of the bail amount that you had possibly paid as premium is non-refundable.
  • Find out the exact date on which the case has ended. Once you get this information, you can ascertain when you can expect to get your money back.
  • If your contact information has changed from the time you posted bail, you should inform the court. If the court decides to send you the refund by mail, it is important to make it aware about your correct address.
  • Wait for a few weeks to allow the court some time to issue a refund check to you. If the refund does not reach your home within this time, you can contact the court and find out whether there is any problem.

How do Bail Bonds Work in California?

In California, as in many other states, the cost of a bail bond is determined by the law. The rates are non-negotiable. The rates are as follows:

  • Federal Courts – 15% of the entire bond amount ($1,500 for a $10,000 bond)
  • Immigration Bond – 20% of the total bond amount ($2,000 for a $10,000 bond)
  • State Courts – Around 10-15% of the bond amount, depending on the state where the crime has been committed ($1,000-1,500 for a $10,000 bond)

In most states, such as California, the bail amount depends on the severity of the crime. The harsher the crime, the greater is the bail amount. In Los Angeles, California, the amount assigned for bail is

  • $25,000 – For perjury or sexual assault
  • $100,000 – For manslaughter
  • $1,000,000 – For kidnapping with an intention to rape

As you can see, bail is not cheap in California as is the case with most other states. Judges do not have a bail schedule to abide by. However, a judge may raise or lower the bail amount if the crime is petty in nature. Bail amount may be waived and an accused may be released on entering a recognizance.

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