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Understanding Bail Bonds

A bail bond is a type of collateral paid by a defendant or suspect in a criminal case, secured by a bondsman or bail bond agency. This payment is posted prior to the court hearing to allow the defendant to be released so he/she does not have to stay in jail before the trial process. The bail bond serves as assurance to the court that the defendant will return to court for the trial. 

Bail Bonds

Bail is generally paid in cash if the defendant is capable of doing so. If the defendant is incapable of paying in cash or does not have the capability of coming up with the amount set by the court, he/she may seek the assistance of a bondsman, who will then pay the bail bond.

Why Do Defendants Pay Bail Bonds?

Conditions in jails may not always be conducive for defendants to effectively prepare for their defense. They pay bail so they can be released from jail and stay in the comfort and safety of their homes as they await trial. Bail bonds are refundable, which means that defendants can receive their money after the trial, minus court fines and other fees.

How Do Bail Bonds Work?

To understand how the process of bail bonds work, let us take a look at the process of arraignment. Once a defendant is arrested for a crime or offense, he/she will be arraigned in court for the bail hearing. The judge will then set the amount of the bail if the offense is bailable.

The defendant may choose to pay for the bail out of his/her own pocket but if he/she is incapable of doing so, he/she may choose to obtain the amount from a bondsman or surety agent. This agent will post the bail on the defendant’s behalf. In this case, the bail amount will be assured by the bondsman and considered as a secured debt by the defendant. In exchange, the defendant may offer a collateral such as a valuable asset, securities, or other properties to secure the bail bond. The defendant may also offer a statement of credit worthiness as collateral.

The surety agent usually requires a 10% fee on bails that exceed $1,000. In many cases the surety agent may even charge other fees for services rendered. The collateral must be sufficient to cover for both the bail amount charged by the court and the percentage fee charged by the surety agency.

How Much Does a Bail Bond Cost?

The bail amount is set by the court. This amount will depend on the type of crime or offense committed by the defendant. A petty, non-violent crime, for example, can carry a bail amount of less than $100 to as much as $2,000. Some offenses may even carry millions in bail. The highest bail ever set in the United States so far is for Michael Milken, a business magnate whose bail was set at $250 million for securities fraud and racketeering.

The bail amount may also vary based on jurisdiction and circumstances. Bail for a defendant who is a repeat offender, for example, may be higher compared to that of a first offender. Bail bond amounts for individuals who are considered a danger to the general public or are flight risks may also be higher. Note that some crimes or offenses are considered non-bailable.

What Happens If the Defendant Fails to Appear in Court?

The whole point of paying bail is to assure the court that the defendant will return for the trial. If the defendant fails, whatever amount or collateral he/she has put up as bail will be forfeited. In case of bail bonds, the surety agency will keep 10% of the amount of the collateral provided by the defendant, while the court is given 90% of the amount. If the defendant appears in court, the amount of the bail is returned to him/her once the case is concluded, although 10% of that amount will be deducted as payment to the surety agency.

Note that bail bond agents are not available in all states. Oregon, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Kentucky do not allow the use of these agents. These states run their own bail bonds program and 10% of the amount will be collected by the court upon the conclusion of the case and not by a bondsman.

Types of Bail Bonds

There are two types of bail bonds: the secured and the unsecured bonds. Secured bail bonds are loans that are covered by some type of security, usually something of value, such as an asset or property. An unsecured bail bond, on the other hand, are not covered by a collateral. Often referred to as “signature bonds”, these bonds rely on the defendant’s good name and reputation, and his/her promise to appear in court. This type of bail bond is considered riskier, which is why it is only offered to individuals with good credit, are known to the bondsman, or have been a local resident for some time. Unsecured bail bonds are also available to defendants who were accused of less serious offenses.