If you or a loved one has been arrested for a serious crime, chances are you will need to secure a bail bond to be released from jail. While most people’s knowledge or interaction with bail bonds is likely limited – you might imagine a judge banging his gavel and yelling “Bail is set at 1 million” – this is not quite how bail bonds work. You might also have seen numerous ads and commercials advertising bail bonds, but until you’ve dealt directly with needing to post bail, chances are you will need to brush up on your bail bond knowledge.
What Does “Bail” Mean?
Bail is an agreement that is made between the court and the defendant, in which the defendant agrees to post a certain amount of money in order to ensure that they will return to their scheduled court date. When the defendant returns to court on that day, as has been stated in the agreement, they get their money back.
For example, if bail is set at $15,000 a defendant can pay the court $15,000 to be released from jail. They are able to get that money back if they return to their specified court date. They receive their money back even if they are convicted at the trial. But if the defendant misses even one court date, they immediately forfeit the $15,000 and a warrant is issued for their arrest. If a defendant is not able to pay the amount of the bail, they are not able to be released from jail, and will thus remain there until the court date and trial.
Being unable to post bail can be a difficult situation because it can often take months for trials to begin following the initial time of arrest. Therefore, posting bail becomes most defendants’ priorities following arrest. This is why people turn to bail bonds in order to be released from prison.
How Bail is Set and Determined
Once a defendant is arrested they are immediately booked into jail. At this time, their name, personal information, photo, and fingerprints are recorded in a police computer. Additionally, their personal items are held in impound. Following this, they are given a sobriety test (this could be a second sobriety test if they were arrested because of a failed first sobriety test). They are then allowed to make one phone call and then they are detained in a cell. At that point, a hearing is scheduled. At the hearing, a judge will determine how much the bail amount will be. That is usually set within 48 hours of the arrest.
Typically, most jurisdictions use a bail schedule to determine the amount bail should be set at. In Los Angeles, the Superior Court of Los Angeles County sets bail at $20,000 for being arrested for a felony. The maximum possible sentence for this is 3 years in jail. But a hearing judge has considerable leeway when he or she sets the bail, and will thus often take external circumstances into account.
For example, if this was a defendant’s first offense, and that defendant is currently employed, and has family in the area, a judge may choose to reduce the amount of required bail amount or discard it completely.
Another example is if a defendant has multiple offenses on his or her record and the judge believes the defendant to be a flight risk, the judge may decide to increase bail or revoke the ability of the defendant to be allowed to post bail.
Some jurisdictions will assign bail as soon as a suspect is booked without waiting for an initial hearing. This typically only happens for low level offenses. A police officer will let the defendant know if they are able to post bail immediately and if the defendant will be allowed to pay for it with a credit card.
How do Bail Bonds Work?
A bail bond is similar to a personal loan. You put down a small percentage of the total amount, and a bondsman or bail agent, provides you with the remainder of the money. The bondsman or bail agent is similar to a lender with a personal loan.
For example, for a $15,000 bail, a family member or the defendant would need to put down a deposit of $2,000. The bondsman would then provide you with the $15,000 that you need to be able to “post bail.” With most bail bond companies, you will also be required to provide collateral for the remaining amount of money. Collateral is typically a deed to a house, car, or item of jewelry, and is used to secure the bail bonds’ loan should the defendant not show up at the court date, and thus not receive his or her money back. Once the trial is over, and the defendant receives the money back, this money is then returned to the bail bond company.
Because of the financial risk that the bondsman and bail bond company take on as a result of the loan, they often take a number of precautions to ensure that the defendant make all of their court dates. The bondsman wants to ensure that the company gets back all the money it has loaned. This is why bonds companies will often do the following:
– Prefer that a friend or relative put up the collateral for the bond. The reasoning behind this is that a defendant will be less likely to miss a court date if their friend or relative’s house is on the line for the bond.
– Call before each court date to remind the defendant about the upcoming trial.
– Require periodic check-ins at the bond office to ensure the defendant has not left town.
Most defendants agree that these are small prices to pay for being able to leave jail while they await a trial date.
Types of Bail Bonds
There are a number of different bonds available, including:
– Surety Bond: This is a bond that is secured by an insurance company. It’s common for bondsmen to work with insurance companies that provide financial backing for the bonds.
– Property Bond: If a defendant owns property such as a house, he or she may be able to use it in place of putting down cash as collateral. The court then places a lien on the property and is able to sell it if the defendant does not appear at his or her court date.
– Release on Own Recognizance: Sometimes a judge may decide to release the defendant without setting bail. This typically only happens when a defendant is accused of a low level crime and they are not considered to be a flight risk.
– Cite Out: This is when a suspect is caught doing something illegal and an officer decides to just issue them a citation requiring them to appear in court in lieu of booking them in to jail.
– Immigration Bond: If the defendant is detained by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) department an immigration bond will allow them to be released from jail until their hearing is complete.
If you do decide to skip the trial or flee, and a bondsman is unable to get in touch with you, it’s likely that they will hire what is called a “bounty hunter” to track you down and return you to custody.
Securing a Bond
If the amount of your bail is set at a price that is more than you or a family member can afford, then you will want to try to secure a bail bond. You’ll want to secure the bond as soon as possible, but still there are some important questions and considerations to consider.
A bondsman will want to make the most of their money and they do this through charging a bond premium that is usually 10-20% of the amount of the bond. This is usually non-refundable. So even if the defendant shows up at the trial and receives the bail money, the person who took out the bond will never be able to get that money back. Because of this, it’s advised that you look for a bondsman that has a low premium.
Additionally, you’ll want to consider that on top of the premium, there may be an application or initiation fee.
Additional fees to consider are court fees and attorney fees that you’ll need to factor in.
Working with a Defense Attorney
If you have been accused of a crime, you will want to work with a criminal defense attorney. Once you and your attorney have discussed the specifics of the allegations that you are facing, you will be informed about the strengths and weaknesses of your case, including the risks of conviction and punishment that you face. A defense attorney will be able to negotiate a plea deal or decide to move forward with a trial, while constantly working to ensure your best interests.
The criminal defense lawyers at Daniel Perlman Law in Los Angeles will put our experience to work for you. We believe every defendant has the right to a zealous defense. We offer free initial consultations and will usually quote a flat fee that will cover all the services necessary for your case, including trial. To schedule a free consultation with one of our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers, call 877-887-4541 or contact us by e-mail.