You know the expression “out on bail,” but do you know how it works?
Bail bonds are a promise that the person released from jail appear for their court date. They require a lump sum of cash, and most Americans post bail using a bail bond company.
What is a bail bond exactly and how does the process work? Keep reading to learn more about bail bonds in the United States.
What You Need to Know About Bail
When the police arrest a person for a crime, they hold them in jail until one of two things happens:
- They appear in court and release them freely
- They get out on recognizance bail
Bail is the set amount of money required to secure a criminal defendant’s release with the promise that they will appear in court for future court dates. The money stays with the court, and the payee gets it back when the defendant fulfills their obligations.
The judge assigned to the case sets the bail. Every judge uses their own experience combined with state regulation to set bail. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that om the 75 larges U.S. counties, the average bail for a felony charge was $55,400 in 2009.
No national data covers misdemeanor data. However, people charged with misdemeanors are more likely to be released on recognizance, which means they do not need to pay but do need to attend court. A report from New York City showed that 23 percent of misdemeanors received a bail offer.
Even those can be several thousand dollars.
Given that 40 percent of American adults cannot afford a $400 emergency expense, it stands to reason that the justice system opened up room for a way to pay bail when the defendant or their family doesn’t have the cash.
Because affordable bail bonds are increasingly rare, services step in to help those who can’t afford bail. Those services are bail bondsmen, and you’ll learn more about them later.
What is a Bail Bond?
A bail bond is a written document in exchange for relative freedom.
It works like this:
A judge grants a defendant release on the condition of meeting bail. The defendant then pays the bail to the court and agrees to the conditions.
Because bail is often more than the average person has in their bank account, they may choose to work with a bail bond company or a bail bondsman. The bond company puts up the money on behalf of the defendant with the agreement that the defendant upholds their obligations with the court.
In exchange for the service, the bail bond company will ask for a percentage of bail as a fee. They may also ask for collateral or a statement of creditworthiness to ensure they receive the rest of the bail if you don’t meet your obligations.
The most common type of bail bond is a surety bail bond. However, there are also two sub-types of bonds called federal bonds and immigration bonds.
Federal Bail Bonds
Federal bail bonds refer to bail bonds provided to defendants charged with federal crimes in federal courts.
These are less easy to find not because federal charges are rare but because federal charges come with more conditions.
For example, someone charged with a federal crime may need to agree to:
- Appearing at all court dates
- Regular drug testing
- Restricted travel
- Limited business activities
Failing to meet any of these conditions resulted in the forfeit of the bail bond, which makes issuing a bond riskier for agencies.
Immigration bonds are a sub-type of federal bonds. The system uses these in federal immigration cases to release a defendant from an immigration detention facility.
Many bail bondsmen who offer immigration bonds specialize in immigration cases. They also tend to charge higher fees because of the perceived risk of the defendant failing to meet their legal obligations.
Immigration bail bonds also come in two forms: delivery bonds and voluntary departure bonds.
A delivery bond works like a surety bond. It guarantees the defendant will show up in court. A voluntary departure bond comes with the condition that the defendant leaves the U.S. on their own by a specific date or they forfeit the bond.
How You Get Your Money Back
So how do bail bonds work in practice?
Once you pay the court, you have two options: fulfill the terms requested or skip them.
If you appear for court and meet all other conditions, the court dissolves the bail bond. Once terminated, the court returns the money. If you use a bail bondsman, then the money goes back to the bail bond.
They then keep their fee as a profit. As a result, the defendant – or whoever paid the bondsman – won’t get any money back.
What happens if you do not meet the bail conditions?
The court will require that the remaining bail be paid, and it keeps the money. If you use a bail bondsman, they use the collateral your provided to pay the court. The bail bondsman doesn’t profit when they need to pay the court.
You Need to Pay in Cash if You Want a Refund
The only way the defendant gets a refund is if they pay the court in cash from their own pocket.
When you pay in cash – not through a bail bondsman – you then receive a complete refund at the end of the case. You get the money back regardless of whether the jury convicts you of the charges.
Bail Gets You Out of Jail
What is a bail bond?
Judges grant bail bonds to allow you to get out and go about your life while you await trial. However, bail amounts tend to be beyond the reach of the average person.
Because bail requires you to come up with a large amount of cash, many people turn to bail bondsmen. These services post your bond for a fee, and they require collateral in case you don’t meet the conditions of your bail.
The only way to get a refund on your bail is to pay it in cash on your own and meet all the requirements set by the judge.
Were you charged with a crime? A lawyer will work to help get you affordable bail. Click here to search for a lawyer in your area.