Bail Bond Basics
A Law and Order SVU judge slams down the gavel looking at a defendant in her courtroom while exclaiming, “Bond is set at $50,000.00!” Enter the tell-tale, bong, booong, bong Law and Order chime and fade to black. But, what is bail and how does it work?
Though the bail process is pretty straight forward, it can be intimidating. If faced with the need to satisfy bail, it helps to have a clear understanding of why bail is necessary and what’s involved. Let’s look at the basics.
What is a bail bond?
It’s a financial agreement between a defendant and the court. The defendant pays the court an amount set by a judge with the agreement that he or she will show up to all their court dates in exchange for being released from jail between those court dates. If the defendant shows up for all of their court appearances, their bail money will be returned to them once the case is settled. If, while on bail, the defendant fails to show up for a court date, two things happen. First, they forfeit the bail money. Second, a warrant is put out for their arrest for failure to show.
Now, if a judge sets bail at $10,000.00 and the defendant doesn’t have the money to put up for bail, there is an alternative to staying in jail for months waiting on court dates. This is where a bail bondsman comes into play.
How do bail bonds work?
It’s a bit like a loan. If the defendant doesn’t have the $10,000.00 in cash, he or she can employ a bail bondsman, also known as a bail agent, to help satisfy the full bail requirement. What a bondsman will do is take a percentage, often 10%, of the total bail from the defendant and put up the remainder. In the case of a $10,000.00 bail, the defendant pays the agent $1,000.00, and the agent takes that and $9,000.00 of their own money and pays the court the total bail. But, this isn’t a discount bail program letting the defendant out of the total financial burden. In addition to the 10%, the defendant must also put up collateral equal to the remaining $9,000.00. Should the defendant skip town and not show up for court, the bail bondsman loses their $9,000.00. So, in that event, the bondsman would like to recoup that loss. Collateral does that. Often collateral is a deed to a house, a car, jewelry, or other asset. If the defendant shows up for their court date, the total money put up for bail will be returned to the bondsman and defendant. This service is not free. The bail bonds company will charge a bond premium of between 10 to 20% of total bail amount. This is a non-refundable fee for their service.
When does a judge set bail?
Upon being arrested and booked into jail a hearing is scheduled where a judge will determine how much bail will be set at. This usually occurs within 48 hours. For low level offenses, some jurisdictions will set bail at booking, without a hearing, allowing the defendant to bond out with a credit card.
How is the amount of bail determined?
Most jurisdictions have a bail schedule that judges use as a guide in setting bail. The type of offense, number of offenses, severity of the alleged crime, and defendant’s character (to include, community ties, employment status, family and living situation) are all taken into consideration. As each offence has its own set of specific circumstances, the hearing judge has considerable leeway and can use their discretion in determining bail.
If currently facing a bond hearing and have questions or need additional help, give us a call and we’ll get you a quote and help you navigate this process so you can focus on your case.