What are Bail Bonds and How Do They Work?

If you watch a lot of cop shows or spend plenty of time with the Investigation Discovery show on in the background, then you’ve probably heard about bail bonds. This doesn’t mean that you know a lot about them though. So, what are bail bonds? How do they work? We’ll cover all of that here. By the time you’re done reading this, you’ll know quite a bit about bail bonds. You might even be able to call yourself an expert.

The Basics of Bail

Let’s start by describing what bail is. This is a legal term referring to an amount that a person needs to pay in order to get out of jail before their trial. If someone is arrested on suspicion of a crime, then they – or their lawyer (usually it’s a lawyer) – can request that they are released on bail. The judge is the person who’s in charge of setting that bail amount, and it can vary from a few thousand dollars for a smaller crime or hundreds of millions for a very serious offense.

The amount of the bail depends on a few different things. The very first is the crime itself. As we mentioned above, smaller crimes usually have lower bail amounts. On top of this, the local statutes, and whether or not the crime is a federal offense (as opposed to a local one), also play a large role in the bail amount. Other considerations include whether or not the person is a repeat offender and any previous legal records of crimes committed. The judge also takes into account whether or not the arrestee is a flight risk. If they have family in another country, money in offshore bank accounts or the crime was bad enough, then the bail amount will be much higher, just in case that person decides to flee the area before their trial.

The bail is essentially a guarantee that the defendant (the accused) will stay in the area until their trial is over. It’s a monetary promise to not disappear. Without bail, our legal system would be in jeopardy.

The Process and How Bail Bondsmen Get Involved

Once bail is awarded, the person who was arrested has a chance to post bail and get out of prison. They must come up with the entire amount of the bail. This is very difficult for many people to do, so they turn to a bail bondsman. The bondsman, usually someone or a group of people who are licensed to run a bail bonds company, are given ten percent of the bail amount in cash by the defendant. The rest is usually in the form of property or some other collateral that is signed over the bail bondsman should the defendant vanish before their trial.

For example, if the bail is set at $1000, the bondsman will produce $100 in cash, which is given to them by the defendant. The person, or one of their family members, will produce collateral that’s worth the other $900. As you can imagine, this can be very difficult if the bail is set at a high amount. This is why many people who end up getting accused of murder or another extremely serious crime end up staying in prison until their trial takes place. They just can’t come up with the millions of dollars or even property worth that amount, which is required to get them out.

With that said, if the defendant or their family does have enough money to pay the bail, then they do so and don’t need to contact a bail bonds company.

Once the Trial Begins

There are two possible scenarios here. If the defendant arrives at the courthouse for their trial on time, then the bail bond is dissolved. The bondman collects the cash amount that they were paid for the bail. They keep this money. It’s their fee, and it’s how they can continue to operate. The contract for the rest of the bail amount, no matter what the collateral was, is dissolved and the defendant’s family gets to keep their belongings.

However, if the defendant doesn’t arrive in court, then he or she has “jumped bail.” The bondsman uses the collateral to pay the remaining bail amount to the court, and then they hire people (or have one of their own employees, in most cases) hunt down the defendant.

As you can imagine, there’s a lot of paperwork involved in the bail bonds process. Not just anyone can run a bail bonds company. They need to be officially licensed and insured, and many of these companies have contacts within the court system, so they are called when someone needs to post bail but doesn’t have the money. They also need to track everyone that they’ve posted bail for since they need to make sure that those defendants will show up in court.