Bail For Beginners
If the police arrest you for allegedly committing a crime, they need to follow specific procedures that include reading you your Miranda rights, processing you at the jail, and determining your eligibility for release.
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.
Bail is money or property that the court can hold while you are out of jail. Bail serves as collateral to ensure you return for your hearings 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 still get the money back. Courts do charge an administrative fee for holding your bail money that you will not get back.
If you do not show up to your court hearings or you leave 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.
A “bail bond” is bail money that comes from a bondsman or bond company. If you do not have the money to make your bail amount, you can borrow it from a company.
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 does not have the money, it may be necessary to get out of jail while awaiting your hearings in many situations.
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.
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, paid in full later on, or may have payment plans.
The Constitution prohibits excessive bail. This limits the amount of money you need to produce, even if it might be more than 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
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.
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:
- Criminal record and history
- Seriousness of the crime
- Ties to family, community, and employment
A judge will also look into your flight risk when they consider your bail. The judge wants to make sure that the bail amount will be high enough to keep you from fleeing and risk losing the money. A large amount of money typically means the person will come to court to reclaim the bail amount. If the judge thinks you are a flight risk, they may also require you 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 is the process of paying the courts. Once someone makes the payment to secure your release, you can leave the precinct. You can post bail in several ways:
- Personal check
- Signing over ownership rights to property
- Giving a bond
- Signing a statement promising to appear when ordered
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 need to find other methods to make up the difference. You might use property, cash, and a small bail bond to ensure release from custody.
You might be released through your “own recognizance.” In other words, you must promise to appear in court at a later date and do not owe any money.
Getting released on your own recognizance is by far the preferred method of posting bail. This option 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.
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.
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