Bail bonds are forms of surety bonds, which serve as financial commitments by criminal defendants to appear in trial courts. Defendants who do not show are required by law to pay a lump sum of money in addition to other penalties beyond those associated with any initial charges against them. Bail bondsmen cosign bonds and agree to pay the full amount if the defendant does not show. Read ahead to learn all about bail bonds and how they work today.
Bail Bonds 101
Bail bonds are a form of commitment (surety bond) meant to encourage criminal defendants to show up in trial court as required. The commitments are essentially financial because a bail bondsman cosigns the bond and guarantees its payment when a defendant does not show up for court. Bail bonds also create a different type of encouragement. Committing to a bail bond creates pressure on criminal defendants to act responsibility due to the additional and impactful consequences imposed when the commitments are broken or violated.
Bail bondsmen charge a percentage as the cost of doing business for guaranteeing bail money. This commercialized bail system is unique to only the U.S. and Philippines and is often considered prejudiced again people of low income and minorities, particularly African Americans. The bail systems in other countries also impose conditions and restrictions on a criminal defendant in exchange for his or her temporary release through the first date of their trial. The middleman position of a bail bondsmen in the U.S. and Philippines is utilized as an additional method of ensuring defendants appear in court as required, however.
How Do Bail Bonds Work?
Defendants charged with a crime are commonly granted bail hearings in court. The judge presiding over the courtroom has final say and almost complete flexibility over the amount of bail set. Misdemeanors and felonies are the two main categories of crimes under which any number and severity of infractions and offenses are defined. Defendants who commit more severe crimes (felonies) typically receive higher bail amounts than those who commit nonviolent misdemeanors. In cases involving a repeat violent offender or defendant who is a significant flight risk, the judge might deny bail entirely.
After bail is set the defendant must choose between several options. The options are to pay the bail in full themselves, stay in jail until the trial date (and pay no bail) or hire a bail bondsman. Bail bondsmen, also referred to as bail bond agents, engage in a contract with the applicable court system. The contract states the bondsman will pay the bail in its entirety if the defendant does not show up for court. This service is used by defendants who cannot afford to pay bail but wish to avoid incarceration until their trial. In most U.S. states a bail bondman is allowed to charge up to ten percent of the bail amount up front. Some states only allow a maximum of eight percent to be charged, however. Bail bondsmen might inquire into the defendant’s credit history prior to accepting any deals. Collateral in the form of house deeds, vehicle titles, jewelry, stocks, and bonds might be required as well. Upon delivery of the bail bond the defendant is released from the jail or holding facility until the date of the trial.
How to Work with a Bail Bonds Company
The first step involved in working with a bail bonds company is to contact a bail bondsman yourself or through a friend or loved one. Information is required such as the full name of the accused and the jail in which they are incarcerated. A booking or report number, details about the charges and all additional relevant information will also be requested.
Once the case is accepted the bail bondsman will present documents and paperwork to be read, agreed to, and signed. The paperwork portion of the process includes a commitment on behalf of the defendant to appear at trial. Paperwork also includes a statement of the percentage owed to the bail bondsman for taking the case and fronting the bail money to the court. It is at this point the bail bondsman also requires any collateral to be surrendered and percentages paid before he or she provides a deciding signature and signs off on the bond. Bail bondsmen commonly meet the parties acting on behalf of the defendant at the jail site. When bail is posted the defendant is released as per the agreement.
What to Expect
The amount of time it takes for a bail bondsman to post bail depends on several factors. Some major cities with around-the-clock activities such as Las Vegas have 24/7 bail bondsman services. Smaller cities and towns might not. If the jail is at maximum capacity posting bail might take longer. Expect thirty minutes to several hours of wait time for bail to be posted in active locations and longer wait times in areas with fewer service options. This is especially true on weekends or when a particular jail has limited operating hours.
Bail bonds companies are in business to help. They, like most other businesses, are in operation to also make a profit. Expect the rules and terms of the agreement to be conveyed clearly and with a sense of authority. For example, even if the court permits you to leave the state while released on bail, you will also need permission from the bail bondsman. Expect to need collateral if your credit is exceptionally bad or bail is high. If you have any questions do not hesitate to ask and make certain you understand what you are signing. Finally, it is important to understand the consequences of skipping trial.
Consequences of Skipping Trial
The consequences of skipping trial after enlisting a bail bondsman to post bail on your behalf are unpleasant at best. Bail bondsmen do not pursue fleeing criminals themselves but often enlist professional bounty hunters to conduct a search or limited manhunt. The court will issue a warrant for your arrest, which will cost you additional court fees and surcharges. Your bail money becomes forfeit whether you return on your own accord or not. The money paid for your bail is then owed to the bail bondsmen, who is likely to enlist a variety of legal tactics to recuperate it in full plus interest. These tactics sometimes include pursuing payments from family members. Once you return or are caught you will be incarcerated again albeit with no option for bail. Additional fines and criminal charges will be added to your case as well.