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Bail Bonds

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A person who has been arrested may be released from custody with a bail bond. A bail bond is a legal contract between the court, the accused and the bondsman. The contract allows the accused to be released on bail provided he/she will show up at all court dates. If the defendant does not show up to court, the bail is forfeited to the court.

The most common kinds of bail bonds include cash, property and surety bonds. However, the laws concerning bail bonds vary among the jurisdictions and can be complex. To learn more about the different types of bail bonds, contact a bail attorney.

Bail Bondsmen

If the defendant has enough money or property to cover the bail cost, he/she can post bail. Friends and family can also give the defendant some of the funds or post bail entirely. If the defendant is unable to come up with bail, he/she may wish to enlist the services of a bail bondsman. In exchange for bailing the defendant out of jail, the bail bondsman receives a non-refundable premium (usually 10 percent of the bail). If the defendant fails to appear in court the bail is forfeited.

Even though bondsmen are financially accountable to the court, they usually receive collateral and/or enlist a co-signor (typically a friend or family member with good credit) to reduce their risk of loss. If you are thinking about posting bail, putting up collateral or cosigning for a loved one, it is important to review the terms and conditions with an attorney to make sure you understand your rights, risks and obligations.

If a defendant is unable to make bail, or does not wish to tie up his/her funds on bail, he should contact one of the following types of bail bondsmen:

Professional Bail Bondsman. This type of bail bondsman promises the court to pay a defendant's bail if the defendant fails to show up. This promise is backed by the bondsman's money and/or assets. Bail bondsmen usually require collateral before posting the bond and charge a non-refundable fee for their services. Bail bondsmen are licensed and regulated by the jurisdiction(s) in which they operate.

Surety Bondsman. A surety bondsman is a bail agent of an insurance company that backs bail bonds. With this added insurance, surety bondsmen are usually authorized to write larger and/or more bonds than other professional bondsmen. In fact, most federal and immigration bonds can only be written by surety bondsmen.

Accommodation Bondsman. This may be a friend, family member or other person who is financing the bond as a personal favor to the defendant. Just as professional bondsmen are responsible for making sure the defendant appears in court, so is the accommodation bondsman. However, unlike a licensed bondsman, it is unlawful for an accommodation bondsman to accept compensation.

Bond Conditions

If a judge is concerned that letting the defendant out of jail presents a danger to the public or that the defendant might skip bail, bail can lawfully be denied. However, an experienced attorney might be able to convince the judge to release his/her client on bond if certain conditions are attached such as:

  • Refraining from associating with certain individuals
  • Refraining from contact with the crime victim(s)
  • Mandatory drug testing
  • Inpatient drug and alcohol treatment
  • Restricted driver's license (e.g., to and from work only)

Talk to your attorney about whether bond conditions would be advantageous in your case.

Types of Bonds

The nature of the bail bonds available in each case will depend on multiple bail factors, including the alleged crime(s), the criminal history of the accused and the jurisdiction where the arrest was made. The more common kinds of bonds are listed below:

Unsecured Bond. While no money is required upfront, the defendant signs a contract agreeing to pay the court the bail bond amount if he or she does not appear in court.

Cash Bond. As the name implies, if the bail is paid to the court in cash (depending on the jurisdiction, the court may also accept check, money order or credit card payment) a cash bond will be issued. Anyone can post cash bail on behalf of the defendant. Bail money will be returned at the end of the case unless the defendant fails to show up for court. A person who is unable to make cash bail may wish to contact a professional bail bondsman for help.

Property Bond. Sometimes called a secured bond, a property bond involves a pledge of real property (e.g., home or vacation home) by the defendant or anyone willing to put up collateral on behalf of the defendant. If a property bond is posted, the court is given a lien on the property which means the court has the right to foreclose on the property if the defendant fails to show up for court. In most cases the value of the property (or the equity therein) must be at least double the amount of the bond.

Release on Recognizance

The court may release a defendant from jail solely based on his or her promise to appear in court. This type of release, called release on recognizance ("ROR"), is usually limited to minor crimes and does not require any payment of money or property. If you have been arrested, a skilled attorney may be able to convince the court to grant ROR in lieu of a bail bond.

Surety Bond. With a surety bail bond, a bail agent or bondsman posts bail on behalf of the defendant. In exchange, the bonding agent charges a non-refundable fee (usually 10 percent of the total bail) and gets collateral from the defendant or a co-signor (usually family or friends) to reduce the risk of loss. The bail bondsman is liable to the court if the defendant fails to return to court, and may enlist the help of co-signors and bail enforcement agents if he or she tries to skip bail.

Federal Bond. A person charged with committing a federal crime may be required to post a federal bond to be bailed out of jail. Federal bonds are more expensive (usually a 15 percent fee) and require a surety bail bondsman. Unlike a professional bail bondsman, who guarantees bail from his or her own assets, a surety bail bondsman's guarantee is backed by an insurance company.

Immigration Bond. An immigration bond is a federal bond that is needed to secure the pre-trial release of a person detained by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Like other federal bonds, professional bail bondsmen cannot write these types of bonds; a specially licensed bonding agent is required. An immigration bond can cost as much as 15 to 20 percent (of the total bail amount) depending on a variety of factors, including the level of risk and the type of collateral available.

To learn more about how bail bonds work, including the amount you will need to pay and how much of your money you will get back, it is best to speak to a local bail attorney.

Bail Lawyers

A bail bond is in essence a financial guarantee made by or on behalf of an arrested person ensuring a defendant's continued appearance in court until the completion of the case. If the defendant makes all court appearances the bond is cancelled and the bail money or property is returned. However, if the defendant fails to appear then the bail money or property is forfeited. If you or a loved one is in jail, speak to an attorney to learn more about bail bonds.

Did You Know?

According to the National Association of Bail Enforcement Agents, bail enforcement agents ("bounty hunters") retrieve approximately 90 percent of all bail jumpers.