Most people never worry about understanding the bail bond process because they’re typically not concerned about being arrested. However, should an unfortunate circumstance arise for you or a loved one, would you know what to do or to whom you should turn?
There are more than 15,000 licensed bail bond agents in the United States, whose job is to navigate the criminal justice pretrial process to assist in getting their loved one home. While many people think that their role is purely focused on releasing defendants, this isn’t so. The true function of a bail bond agent is not release, but rather appearance. That is, a bail agent assumes legal responsibility for ensuring that a defendant who is released actually shows up for all of their scheduled court appearances until their case is completed.
This assurance by the bail agent is backed with financial security, meaning he or she must pay the court the full amount of the bond in the event of a defendant’s non-appearance.
A good bail agent works with defendants and their families to ensure that things run as smoothly as possible for them during what is obviously a difficult time, while making sure that the requirements of the court system are met.
When someone gets arrested, it is extremely easy to get overly excited and lose your cool. Whether you are a family member, friend or the actual person arrested, it is important to stay calm and levelheaded. Law enforcement will be giving you a lot of information during the process and it is easier to listen and comply when you are composed and in control.
Most jails will allow individuals to make a few phone calls after they are incarcerated. The old “three phone call rule” is still valid in many jails across the country. This common practice was originally created so that arrestees could call three specific persons they would absolutely need to help them at that particular moment: a family member, an attorney and a bail agent. Today, most people will place a single call to a family member who in turn will call a bail agent and an attorney.
Finding someone to help you in an area in which you have no experience -- like bail bonds -- can be extremely difficult. Additionally, with so many options out there in the marketplace, it can be a challenge to find a bail agent you can trust. When looking for an agent, follow these simple guidelines.
- Be sure to work with an agent that appears and behaves professionally. First impressions count for a lot.
- Check to see that the agent has a valid license number. All bail bond agents are required to be licensed by a state regulatory body (in most states it is the Department of Insurance).
- Verify that the bail agent has experience as well as a physical office location. If an agent has invested in a retail location, this is a good indication they are serious about the business. Also, a bail business that has established itself in a community for a number of years is a testament to its stability as well as how they treat their clients.
- Work with an agent that is endorsed by a recognized organization like the Better Business Bureau or through a trusted bail bonds brand.
Bail bond agents are able to do their job based on the information with which you have provided them. The important details you should have include the following: defendant’s name, location of the jail, date of birth, amount of the bond and the charges. Other defendant information you should have includes their place of residence, whether they own or rent their home, whether or not they are currently working or are in school, and if they have children or family nearby. The more comprehensive and accurate the information, the easier the bail transaction process will be.
A bail bond is a contract between the defendant, bail agent and court based on a promise by the defendant that he will show up for all court appearances. If the defendant fails to appear, he must pay the full amount of the bond to the court. The bail bond agent serves as an insurance agent in the process, guaranteeing that the defendant will show up or else be held financially liable for the entire bond amount. Obviously it is essential for every defendant who is released on a bail bond that they show up to court. If no defendant is present at the time of trial, the trial cannot be held, meaning justice cannot be served for either the public or the victims of crime.
In the vast majority of cases a bail agent should never contact you directly. Rather, you should be initiating a phone call to the bail agent. The only time a bail agent might call you first is if the defendant in jail has reached out to the bail agent in advance. If that is the case, it is always wise to check with the defendant. Unscrupulous bail agents will illegally solicit the families of those arrested. If this happens to you, hang up and call the jail directly to find out if your loved one is actually incarcerated.
Also, some bail agents loiter outside a jail and will attempt to solicit families on the street. Again, if this happens, simply walk away. Be sure to do your own research and select an agent you have been able to qualify, rather than be pressured into working with someone who corrals you in front of the court house.
Bail is a regulated insurance industry. This means that like other insurance products, the price a bail bond agent can charge is filed with the Insurance Department. Because of this, all agents must charge the same amount. Be wary! The next time you see catchy marketing slogans and signs offering zero down and easy payments, understand that these are just marketing gimmicks. At the end of the day you are going to pay the same amount no matter which bail bond agent you choose. So be certain that your agent is the best, based on performance and reputation, as opposed to a lowball price.
When you are providing information to a bail agent, be as accurate and truthful as possible. The quality of the information can impact your ability to secure a bond with a trusted, professional agent. It should be noted that the agent will validate your information and know if you are being truthful or fabricating information.
Sometimes the court or bail bond agent may require that certain conditions be associated with release of a defendant. This includes the wearing of electronic monitoring bracelets and home confinement restrictions. It is extremely important that these conditions are adhered to or the defendant can be found in violation of his release and placed back in custody.
The purpose of pretrial release is to ensure that a defendant shows up for court. If you or anyone you know is ever out on a bail bond, it is imperative to never miss court. Not only can a defendant be placed back in custody, the bail bond premium payment that you or your family may have put up with a bail bond agent may be lost. In addition, missing court puts these individuals and their families at serious financial risk, especially if defendants do not turn themselves in within a specified period (which varies by state and county). Ultimately defendants and/or their families could be liable for the full amount of the bond in these instances.
While most of us think we’ll never need the services of a bail agent, it is important to understand that the right to bail is guaranteed by the 8th Amendment of the United States Constitution. It allows for defendants to be released prior to their trial so that they can continue to provide for their family and prepare for their defense.
Every year, the bail bond industry and the insurance companies that back them, underwrite and guarantee billions of dollars of liability within the criminal justice system. Simultaneously, bail agents ensure the appearance of hundreds of thousands of defendants in court. In doing so, they play a critical role in making certain there is accountability in our system.
In addition, by guaranteeing that defendants show up to stand trial, they are safeguarding the right of crime victims to get a real chance of justice. The bail industry is one of the least known yet most effective components of our modern criminal justice system.
While there are many choices for consumers when seeking a bail bond agent, selecting the wrong one can prove disastrous. Take the time to understand the process and what options are available so you can make the wisest decision possible at a critical moment.
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