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Bail For Beginners

Key Takeaways:

  • Most states or cities have a set amount they charge for bail, depending on the charge. 
  • The amount of bail can also depend on a prior criminal record, the seriousness of the crime, and flight risk.
  • Defendants who make all of their court dates will get their bail back at the conclusion of their case, even if convicted.

If police arrest you, whether you have to remain in jail for the duration of your case depends on the charges. A judge, prosecutor, and your criminal defense attorney will have a hearing to determine your release. At this hearing, the judge may set a specific amount of money — your “bail” — that you can pay to secure your release.

If you have been arrested and are awaiting this hearing, you should contact a criminal defense lawyer to help you. If you have already had this hearing and were denied bail or received a bail amount that was too high, a lawyer can still represent you and attempt to get more reasonable bail.

What Is Bail?

Bail allows people to stay out of jail while their criminal cases move through the court system. Bail is money or property that the court can hold while you are out of jail. Bail is collateral to ensure you return for your court dates and trial and don’t leave the state or country.

Generally, bail is set higher for severe crimes and lower for more minor charges. Once you appear at your scheduled court hearings, you will get the bail money or property back at the end of the case.

Even if you are found guilty and convicted of the crime, you will get the money back. Courts charge an administrative fee for holding your bail money that you will not get back.

If you skip your court hearings or flee the country, the courts will take your bail money. You can’t get this money back. There will also be a new warrant for your arrest.

What Are Bail Bonds?

A “bail bond” is bail money that comes from a bondsman, surety bond company, or other bail bond company. If you do not have the money to make your bail amount, you can borrow it from a company.

The bail bond process might differ slightly from company to company and with different bail bond agents. Bond companies charge you a set rate or percentage of the bail for their services and loaning you the money. If your bail is set at $100,000, your bond agent may charge 10% of the total — $10,000 — to use their services.

While paying a bondsman is a high cost, if you or your family do not have the money, it may be necessary to get out of jail while awaiting your hearings in many situations. Someone can act as a cosigner on your bond as well.

What Is a Bail Bondsman?

The bond company will assign you a bond agent or bondsman who assures the court that you will be at your hearing. They will handle your loan for you.

You need to attend all the hearings. The bond company has to pay the full bail amount if you do not show up at court, so your bondsman will try to ensure you show up.

How Do I Get a Bail Bond?

Contact any local bondsman or bond company to ask about their rates and requirements.

Some companies need significant collateral, like your house or property, before they lend out the money. Others need to be paid upfront, be paid in full later, or allow payment plans.

How Is Bail Determined?

The Constitution prohibits excessive bail. This limits the amount of money you need to produce, but that doesn’t mean bail can’t be more than what you can afford.

Bail can be expensive, but the laws around it don’t allow:

  • Bail as a way for the government to raise money
  • High bail amounts to punish a person for being arrested

The main factors a judge will consider when setting bail are:

  • The severity of the crime
  • If the crime was committed against a vulnerable group
  • If it was a violent crime

At the bail hearing, the judge may increase — or even deny — the bail amount if you are a danger to the public. A less severe crime, such as disorderly conduct in public, might be set at $1,000 in your state. A more serious offense like armed robbery might be $100,000.

Bail ‘Schedules’ or Costs

Most states or cities have a set amount they charge for bail. The legal term is a bail “schedule,” and judges must follow the pre-determined ranges for each criminal charge.

This schedule can be affected by things such as:

  • Your criminal record and history
  • The seriousness of the crime
  • Your ties to family members, loved ones, and community, and whether you have a job

A judge will also look into your flight risk when they consider your bail. The judge wants the bail amount to be high enough to entice you to make all your court dates. A higher amount of the bail typically means coming to court. You may also have to wear an ankle monitor or surrender your passport.

These schedules also have guidelines about being able to “post bail” right away, if you need to wait for a bail hearing in front of a judge, or if you must pay in cash.

Posting Bail

Posting bail is the process of paying the courts. Once someone makes the payment to secure your release, you can return home. You can post bail in several ways:

  • Cash
  • Personal check
  • Signing over ownership rights to property
  • Giving a bond
  • Signing a statement promising to appear when ordered

Using Property To Post Bail

Any property you use for bail needs to have the same cash value as your bail amount.

If your home appraises for $300,000, but your bail is $350,000, you must make up the difference. You might use property, cash, and a small bail bond to ensure release.

What Is ‘Released on Own Recognizance’?

You might be released through your “own recognizance.” This means promising to appear in court.

It involves no money or property exchange with the courts. Some crimes, especially violent crimes, do not allow this type of release. If you are seen as a threat to public safety, you can be denied bail or denied release on your own recognizance.

Bail After Your Case Closes

Once your case concludes, either through a plea bargain or a verdict, you will collect your bail money from the courts or work with your bond company. If you do not pay the bond company on time or in full, you can face:

  • Additional charges
  • High interest rates on the loan
  • Collection and repossession attempts

Your bail bond is a debt until you pay it off. Personal bankruptcy does not always dismiss this type of debt, so you should consider your options with a bankruptcy attorney before filing.

Let a Lawyer Help Bail You Out

If you are facing criminal charges, an experienced criminal defense attorney can help bail you out. They can argue for reasonable bail and work with your family to explain options for gaining pre-trial release.

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