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So you need bail?

So you need bail?

After you have been arrested, you will appear before a judge who will set bail.  Bail is an amount of money that you must surrender to the court in order to be released from jail, with the promise you will return to for all subsequent court appearances.  If you do not show up, you may forfeit your bail, be re-arrested, charged with bail jumping, and taken into custody.

Bail money is returned at the end of the trial (sometimes minus a small administrative fee) if you appeared at all court appearances, no matter if you're found innocent or guilty.

How do you pay the bail?

If the amount of bail is small, most people will pay cash.  Property can also be offered as security for bail when it is a large amount of money, and only if the property’s value is equal to or greater than the amount of the bail.  When the bail amount is large, many people secure a bail bond, which is like an insurance policy you purchase from a bail bond agent (or bondsman).

How do you obtain bail insurance or a bail bond?

Once bail has been set by the judge, you will be given time to contact a bail bondsman to arrange for a bail bond.  Alternatively, you can have your lawyer, friend, or relative contact a bail bond agent. In contacting the bail bond agent consider the following:

  • You may pay for the bail bond with cash, check or credit card, an amount usually between 10-15 percent of the full bail amount the judge set.  This payment is the fee for the bond and is non-refundable.
  • If you are in jail, you will be provided with a list of bond agent telephone numbers and access to a phone.  Alternatively, your friends and family can find bond agents in the yellow pages or online by searching "bond agent” and your location in any online search engines.
  • The bond agent will need to know the amount of the bail required and you can make arrangements on the phone to pay the premium for the bond.
  • The bond agent will normally bring the bail bond agreement to you in jail and walk you through hot to complete the documentation.  Make sure you receive copies of the contract and receipts for monies paid to the bond agent.
  • Make sure you use a bond agent that is licensed in your state. When you meet with the bondsman, ask to see their license and ID before paying for the bond.

What happens to my bail if you miss a court appearance?

If you miss a court appearance, your bail can be forfeited and a bench warrant for your arrest can be issued by the judge with a charge of “failure to appear or bail jumping.” If your bail is forfeited, your bondsman hands over the full amount of your bail to the court.  If this occurs, the bail bondsman will pursue you for the full amount of the bail plus any costs incurred to recover the amount paid to court.

How do you secure a bail bond for a friend

The telephone rings in the middle of the night and on the other end of the phone is a good friend or relative who is in jail and needs help arranging bail.  You can hear how upset and scared your friend is, and you want to help. Follow these easy steps:

  • Have your friend provide the following information that you will supply to the bond agent: full name, address, date of birth, the charges, where and when the arrest took place, where they are being held, and the bail amount.  Make sure you understand how your friend will pay the bond fee.
  • Find bond agents in the yellow pages or via online search engines.  Call more than one agent since fees can vary between 10 and 15% of the bail amount.
  • In your conversation with the bond agent make sure you know how much the bond will cost, what the payment options (cash, check or credit card) are, and payment options if the bail amount is very large.
  • Once you have an agreement with the bond agent, arrange for a time to meet with the agent and your friend at the jail to complete the transaction and have the bond agent post the full amount of the bail.

Should you cosign for a bail bond?

A friend or relative is in jail and requires a bail bond.  The bondman may require one or several cosigners for the bail bond before they will agree to post bail.  In order to cosign a bail bond agreement, you will be required to go to the jail or the bail bondman's office to sign the documents at the time when the bond agent goes to pay the bail.  The greatest risk in cosigning a bail bond agreement is if the defendant does not appear for a court appearance, then the cosigners are liable for the entire amount of the bail.

How do you surrender a bail bond?

If you have co-signed a bail bond, and for whatever reason feel uncomfortable or are unable to continue in this role, you can surrender a bail bond and excuse yourself as a cosigner.  In surrendering the bail bond, the defendant will have to go back to jail until a new bail bond can be arranged.

To surrender a bail bond, you will need to inform the bail bond agent, arrange to meet the bail bond agent along with the defendant; usually at the jail and pay the fees associated with surrendering the bail bond.  Again, it is very important you read all details of the bail bond agreement and understand all the possible costs associated with the bail bond.

What happens if the bail bond is withdrawn by the bond agent?

A bail bondsman has the right to withdraw a bail bond for any reason. If this occurs, the defendant will be immediately taken into custody until a new bond can be posted. Be sure to read all the details in the bail bond agreement and understand if, and how much of your payment will be refunded when the bail bond is withdrawn by the bond agent.

Photo Credits: Bail bonds by Harry by Flickr: rioncm

Mark MestelCriminal Defense Attorney

Mark D. Mestel has over 30 years of criminal defense experience. Since 1977, Mr. Mestel has personally handled hundreds of felony cases. Mark Mestel attended four years of college at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, graduating ...

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