When someone has been arrested a judge will make a determination whether that person can be released from jail during his trial, based on the severity of the crime. This is referred to as “pretrial release.” Assuming the defendant is eligible to be released, the judge will designate the types of release that are acceptable.
Typically there are three types of release:
- Own recognizance release – through a public sector pretrial release program. It is a type of unsecured release where no financial security is required.
- Full cash release – a type of financially secured release, in which the defendant pays the full amount of the bond and upon completion of his case, receives the full amount back, minus any court costs and fees.
- Surety bond or commercial bail bond release – another type of financially secured release, wherein the defendant puts up a non-refundable percentage of the bond amount, typically 10%, as a premium payment to a bail agent.
Whatever release mechanism is available, the ultimate question for most individuals and their families is: Should I bail this person out? Before someone makes this type of decision, it is important to first understand some dos and don’ts around the bail decision process. Because commercial bail is the most common and easily obtained form of release, we’ll focus on this particular process.
When you bail someone out you are in essence taking financial responsibility for them. You are guaranteeing to the bail agent -- who in turn is making that same guarantee to the court -- that the defendant will show up for all court appearances. If the defendant fails to appear, you become responsible for the full amount of the bond.
That being so, be sure to really know the person whom you are bailing out. That individual and their loyalty to you stand between your money and the court.
Important things to know: their home address, their family members’ address, their place of employment or the school they attend and places they frequent.
A bail bond is the same as any insurance policy. It is important to understand what you are purchasing and what the coverage entails.
Many people are unaware that when they purchase a bail bond, they are paying a non-refundable premium to a bail agent. This means they will not be receiving the premium payment back when the case is finished and the bond is exonerated.
This is similar to the situation with home owners or car insurance. One does not receive a refund at the end of the year if you don’t have a claim. The premium is simply the price of the policy.
Also, fully understand all requirements and conditions of the defendant’s release. The last thing you want to do is to indemnify -- be legally responsible -- for a friend’s bail bond without understanding the conditions and then have the bond forfeited for their failure to comply. It can be an expensive lesson.
When you indemnify someone’s release from jail, it is always wise to stay involved with the defendant and the case. You can play an important role by reminding them of court dates and even offering to drive them to appearances, making sure they are obeying court orders. By staying involved and reminding the defendant, you will be able to better manage the financial risk of the bail bond you have purchased.
When you work with a bail bond agent, be certain that they appear professional and are knowledgeable about the process. Try to work with an established agency that has been in business for a number of years. Make certain that the agent is properly licensed. All bail agents must be licensed by the state, so do your homework and verify that they have a valid license number.
Be wary of agents who “talk a good game,” while throwing jargon at you and making outrageous promises.
Also be careful of bail agents who offer you convoluted financial terms. It is important to know that bail is a regulated industry and all agents must charge the same amount. You might pay more or less up front, and the amount of time you’re allowed to pay back the money may vary, but ultimately the fee is the same.
Bailing someone out with whom you do not have a close personal relationship is never a good idea. When you are taking financial responsibility for another individual’s behavior and performance it is best to know them as well as possible.
If you decide to bail someone out of jail by utilizing a commercial bail bond agent, make sure that you are working with one who is reputable, experienced and caring. You can determine this through research and conducting interviews. Be certain they treat you with care and respect. Check that they dress and act professionally, and also have experience and a good reputation. Many agents will have endorsements from organizations like the Better Business Bureau and the ExpertBail Network.
Staying in touch with a defendant is an essential part of bailing someone out and financially guaranteeing their appearance in court. The more you know about the person’s whereabouts and habits the better you can stay on top of them and ensure they remember to go to court. In addition, it is important to follow their case closely so you know when the bond has been exonerated and you are officially no longer financially responsible.
Purchasing a bail bond is not something that we do every day as consumers. Therefore, if you should ever find yourself in the situation of needing to make a decision about bailing someone out of jail, it is critically important that you have all the information and background needed to choose wisely.
Follow this practical advice and protect yourself when dealing with what can be a tough situation.
Be certain that you are refunded your collateral when the case is over. A good bail agent will keep you apprised of the situation and promptly return your collateral and close out necessary legal paperwork on a case when it has been completed. Make sure your name has been removed from the bond or else you may be financially liable if the person you bailed out fails to fulfill court-mandated requirements. Be absolutely certain that you have clear proof that you are no longer responsible for that individual.
If you are ever asked the question, “Can you bail me out?” you should never say “Yes,” without carefully considering the huge financial obligation to which you may be agreeing. Following these simple dos and don’ts will help prepare you for that unfortunate situation should it ever occur.
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