Bail Bonds Definition

“Bail” and “bond” are terms that are often used interchangeably, but they mean different things:

  • Bail is the amount of money a judge sets to allow you to temporarily get out of jail with the promise to return for your court date
  • A bond is money paid by a third party (a bail bond company) to meet bail

“Bail bond” is the term for the overall process of using a bond to get out of jail on bail.

The word likely comes from the Old French term “baillier,” which means controlling, guarding, or delivering. It may have Latin roots in the word “baiulare” which means to bear a burden, or from “baiulus” which is the person who carries or bears burdens.

What Are Bail Bonds?

A bail bond is used to get released from jail after you are arrested. This is sometimes called “bailing out” or “making bail.”

The judge will set a certain amount of money you need to pay, called bail. This amount differs depending on how serious the crime is.

If you do not have all the money upfront, you can use a bail bond to get out of jail by putting down just a small amount of money. A bail bond agency will put up the rest of the money for your release, typically for a fee or by earning interest. If you meet all the conditions set on bail, the court returns the money. However, the bond company will keep a fee or whatever interest they charge.

Key Takeaways

  • Bailing someone out of jail when you don’t have enough money is possible by using a bond company or bail bondsman.
  • You are still responsible for making your court dates while out on a bail bond.
  • Judges decide whether bail is appropriate and how much it will be.

Understanding Bail Bonds

You can bail an accused person out of jail but not a convicted person. Bail bonds only work to keep someone out of jail between the arrest and sentencing dates. They allow an accused person to wait at home during their arraignment, court dates, and trial. This time at home is conditional — the accused individual must make every court appearance and follow other rules.

If you do not have the sum of money necessary to get someone out on bail, you can contact a bond company. They will lend you the money for a flat fee or charge you interest. The person accused of the crime needs to make all their court dates, or the fees will increase, and the bond company will require more money and repayment.

Do You Have a Right to Bail or Bail Bonds?

No. The U.S. Supreme Court says the Constitution allows keeping someone without bail while awaiting their criminal trial. There are no legal rights to bail, so a judge can deny it.

Released on a Bail Bond

When you are released from jail until your court hearings, you need to follow specific rules to avoid going back to jail. If someone posted bail for you or used a bail bond, they will be held accountable for the money if you leave town or miss court dates.

You also have to follow certain rules while awaiting trial, such as staying at home, staying at a hotel under supervision, or being on house arrest.

You can sometimes apply to leave for a special purpose, even if you are already in jail, such as traveling out of town for a funeral. This is known as “compassionate bail” or “compassionate release.”

Protection From Excessive Bail

Many people cannot afford the high bail set for some crimes. Serious or violent crimes can have bail in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The judge has some guidelines on how to set the cost, but the fee increases based on the accused person’s:

  • Age
  • Resources such as money or travel options (called “flight risk”)
  • Prior criminal records or pending cases
  • Any potential threats or violence to victims, family, or the public
  • History of making court appearances

The highest bail in history was three billion. However, the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from excessively high bail. This amount was ruled “excessive” and asked to be lowered because of the defendant’s Constitutional rights.

Even without having an excessive bail amount set, it is hard to afford high bail costs, so using a bail bond is a common practice.

Related Terms

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