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How Bail Bonds Work

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Bail involves a process in which a defendant is released in exchange for money. This money is a type of "insurance" that the defendant will show up for his or her court dates. Bail exists because trials can take weeks or months to work their way through the court system and bail permits a defendant - who may be innocent - to wait for their trial at home, while pursuing normal activities.

The Bail Process

When people are arrested for a crime, they generally are taken to a local law enforcement station where they are booked. This involves recording information about the crime that allegedly has taken place, as well as basic information about the suspect. During booking, a police officer usually will take a mug shot and fingerprint the suspect. Then they will run a background check on the suspect. The officer will hold onto any of the suspect's personal property - this will be returned to the suspect when he or she is released. The officer generally will allow the suspect to make a phone call and will check to see whether the suspect is intoxicated. After the booking procedure, the suspect is incarcerated in a county jail or station lock-up.

What happens next depends on the crime itself. For crimes not deemed serious, the suspect is often allowed to post bail immediately. In cases involving serious crimes, the suspect will have to wait in jail - usually no more than 48 hours - for a bail hearing. At the bail hearing, a judge or magistrate will decide whether the suspect may be released on bail. The judge then will decide the amount of bail.

When determining bail for a suspect, the judge will consider the suspect's flight risk and the severity of the crime. If a suspect has a criminal history, or a history of not showing up for court appearances, that may affect a judge's decision about bail. The judge may consider whether the suspect is a risk to others, whether the suspect has ties to the community, the stability of residence, work history and the nature of the crime. As a result of this information, release conditions and bail terms are established. Ultimately, the bail is at the judge's discretion, although some jurisdictions have bail schedules, which set a standard bail amount.

Posting Bond

Once a judge has determined an amount for bond, the suspect usually can be released if he or she posts the bond in cash or in assets. If the accused or the family of the accused does not have the money or the assets to pay for bond, they can apply to a bail bondsman. is a directory you can search to find a local bondsman. The bondsman will take a percentage of the bond amount - usually between 10 and 15 percent of the bond money depending on the state - and will supply the rest of the money so that the suspect can leave jail. If a suspect cannot afford bail or a bail bondsman, he or she can appeal the bond through his or her attorney.

Types of Bonds

Here are some of the most common types of bonds that a judge can set:

Surety Bond - In a surety bond, a bail agent guarantees the court that they will pay if an accused does not show up in court. A surety company or the agent's property is used as a guarantee.

Cash Bail - With cash bail, the accused must post bail in cash - not in assets. This type of bail is considered a strong incentive for the accused to show up in court, since the accused will forfeit the cash if they fail to show up for all of their court appearances.

Property Bond - A property bond involves the court recording a lien on a property to secure the bail amount. If the defendant does not appear in court, the court may seize the property. This type of bail is not as common.

Release on Personal Recognizance - In this situation, the accused is released without any financial motive to secure their return. This sort of bail usually is through county or law enforcement administered pre-trial release programs.

Unsecured Personal Bond - This is similar to released on personal recognizance, except there is a cash penalty if the defendant fails to appear. For example, on a $10,000 unsecured personal bond, should the defendant fail to appear, he will owe the court $10,000.

Secured Personal Bond - The defendant is allowed to post his own bond directly to the court, with the hopes of a full refund upon completion of his trial. Oftentimes, this bond becomes a fine as a part of the defendants sentencing when the defendant is remanded to the court.

Pre-Trial Release Bonds - An officer of the pretrial release unit agrees to take the defendant's case and the defendant is released after meeting specific requirements for participation in the program. These may include verification of residence, employment etc. as well participation in drug screening, electronic monitoring, home visits or required office visits. This is a governmentally funded program.

Bail Review - Defendants are offered an opportunity for a judge to review the bail set by the court officer if they have failed to arrange bail prior to a specific date. Sometime this is automatically set, while other times it is in response to a motion filed by the defendant's attorney.

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