Before its independence, the US has based its bail laws on its English equivalent. The old English bail system, used from 410 to 1066, was designed as a way to peacefully resolve disputes. Back then, the suspect was required to bring someone close to them as a surety or guarantee to ensure that the accused was covered.
The surety would pay the bail amount if the suspect fled after being let out on bail. There wasn’t an actual transaction of money for the defendant to be let out on bail, only a demonstration of their ability to pay the bail if needed. This system remained intact until the 1900s when the means of transportation evolved allowing people to travel at great distances as settlements grew in size; making the surety's relatives not as practical. The US slowly allowed commercial bondsmen to start their business in San Francisco, and soon, they were operating in the whole country.
A lot of people don’t quite grasp the concept of the dynamic behind posting bail. It’s not paying money to get rid of the punishment. When a suspect is placed behind bars because the police suspect that they are guilty of a certain crime, they await a trial. The bail money is paid for a suspect to be released, but the release is conditional; the suspect has to attend their hearing in court. The commercial bond system mentioned above is only existent in two countries, the US and the Philippines. Read on to understand how the bail bond system works and how to get the money back if there is no conviction.
The Bail Hearing and Bail Amount
Once an individual is charged with a crime, they should typically expect a bail hearing in court. This process is known as an arraignment, where the court reads the indictment to the defendant and asks for a plea. The defendant can ask the judge for a release based upon bail. The judge isn’t required to accept the request but it’s accepted in many cases. The amount of bail is mainly dependent on the judge’s ruling, and they sometimes set the bail at extremely high amounts if the crime was violent, or if the accused is a flight risk.
There are some almost-standard bail amounts dependent on the jurisdiction and state of the court. Nonviolent misdemeanors are usually given lowest bail amounts, usually set at $500 in most courts. Naturally, felonies have a higher bail; commonly set at $20,000 or more, and the more violent the crime, the higher the bail amount. If the judge agrees to the bail and sets it to a certain amount, the accused can either stay in jail until the trial is done or pay the bail amount and be released until the final hearing. Some courts, in certain jurisdictions, require the defendant to assign a secure asset like a title or loan or cash.
The Commercial Bond System
A bail bondsman is a commercial entity that provides a guarantee or security to the court through written agreements. They can get the defendant out of jail as if they had paid the bail. They are responsible in the eyes of the law to pay for the full bail if the accused fails to come to the hearing or flees altogether. These bail bond services are commercial because the bondsman charges the defendant, usually about10% of the bail amount upfront, in exchange for their coverage, in addition to other fees. Certain states have regulations that prohibit bondsmen to charge more than 8% of the bail amount.
It’s not uncommon for a bail bond agent to ask the defendant for a statement or document of creditworthiness, or even ask the defendant to put in collateral security assets like a title or loan if the bail amount is high. Bondsmen accept more general forms of assets and properties than the court, such as jewelry, titles, stocks, and houses. Accused individuals who have a history of skipping court hearings will be assigned higher bails and bond premiums than those who have a good history of attendance.
Benefits of Using a Bail Bond Company
While the fees of a bail bond’s company may vary according to the bail set by the judge, it’s usually not a very high price to pay for the convenience it provides. In states such as Florida, where warrant checks are hard to verify if the suspect flees, a professional bail bond company can conduct the research required to find out whether there is an arrest warrant out for the suspect. As mentioned on Sanford.bail2go.com, getting weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly reports on the court dates should help you stay informed and minimize the chances of missing any hearing. One of the best advantages of certain bond companies is their flexibility when it comes to bailing terms and fees. You can sometimes negotiate lesser terms in times of need.
Defendant Not Showing Up
Once the accused fails to show up to court at the designated day and time, the bail money is automatically transferred to the court, and there is no way to get it back, whether it was paid by the defendant or a bond agent. A judge can assign a bench warrant, which results in the arrest of the defendant and jailing them again. The possibility of being released on bail is still there, albeit lower. Both the bail amount and the bondsman’s premium are higher due to the higher risk shown by the actions of the defendant.
Whether a bondsman or a friend/relative is paying for your bail, there are some conditions that accompany it. The limitations and restrictions imposed on individuals are dependent on the crimes they are charged with. Violating bail and probation conditions can result in the re-arrest of the accused.
- Partial Check-Ins
Similar to parole or probation, some jurisdictions require the accused to check in with an officer, known as a pretrial service officer. This condition is made to ensure that the defendant is complying with certain conditions the court orders, usually for violent crimes and felonies.
If the accused is charged with certain crimes like stalking, criminal threats, violent domestic crimes, or anything similar, the court imposes a no-contact order. This order prevents the defendant from being in contact with the related parties of the case. This order applies until the court orders otherwise.
A judge can require the individual to stay in employment during the duration of bail. If the accused has no job, they are required to find one within a limited time frame.
- Flight/Travel Restrictions
Any accused, that’s out on a bail no matter what the crime is, is not allowed to leave a certain area or space until the court releases them. A pretrial service officer can allow the defendant to have exceptions in certain cases.
- Refraining from Substance Abuse
In drug-related crimes, most courts require the defendant to stay clean of drugs and alcohol. They can be required to undergo drug tests weekly.
- Restrictions on Firearms
In almost all types of bail, the court usually orders the accused to refrain from using any form of firearms for any reason. This includes all charges and not only those related to firearms.
The Court Status
Generally, there are only 3 possible outcomes for any case in court. The first one is not receiving a guilty verdict from the judge or jury. In many other cases, the court may drop the case altogether before the trial even begins. The worst outcome for the defendant is the guilty verdict or plea deal. Since in the first two scenarios, the defendant is cleared of the posted charges, they get to take back the bail money from the court. But if the individual is found guilty, the bond money will be transferred to the court to offset the court fees.
There are some circumstances where bail can be paid after the guilty verdict is declared. Under normal circumstances, the accused must start their prison sentence once the judge has ruled a guilty verdict.; right after the ruling, officers transfer the guilty defendant to a detention center or prison. But, under less common circumstances, the judge may allow bail if the defendant files an appeal. The suspect will remain out of jail until the second hearing of the appellate court determines otherwise. It’s important to understand that not all states and jurisdictions allow this type of bail.
Getting the Bond Money Back
When you agree to a bondsman's fee, you sign an agreement stating that you forfeit the fee percentage once it’s paid. For the rest of the bail money, the bondsman will require some form of collateral in case the defendant doesn’t appear for the hearing. If you want to get the collateral back, whether it’s cash or assets, you have to appear for the hearing, or the agent will repossess the assets and forfeit the cash. Similar to how a court operates when it comes to bonds, the agent has all the legal rights to take the assets if you fail the conditions agreed upon.
Forfeiture and Bounty Hunters
A certified bondsman has some special legal rights when it comes to defendants who do not comply with their agreement. If the accused doesn’t appear in court on the designated day or violates bail terms for any reason, the agent is allowed to track the defendant and return them into the custody of the court, and sometimes, some physical force may be allowed. The court typically provides a grace period, where it gives the bondsman time to get the defendant back to the court’s custody. If the agent manages to return the defendant within the grace period, they do not have to pay the full bail amount.
Since bondsmen don’t have the necessary resources or skills required to return a fleeing defendant to the court’s custody, they usually employ the services of professional bounty hunters, known formally as bail enforcement agents. It’s important to note that bounty hunters are not official officers of any law enforcement agency, but they do have the exception of arresting a defendant who has fled from a bond agent. The main legal power behind this exception is in the contract that the defendant signs with the bond agent. They have to agree to permit the bondsman to use the services of bounty hunters, which can include entering their home and arresting them without other consents.
When to Expect Your Money Back
When you directly pay bail to the court, you can expect the cash to arrive within 2 weeks as a check. If it’s an asset-paid bail, the court should release the asset in a few days. Bail bonds are quite similar if you’ve put up collateral assets in the bond agreement. Whether you win or lose the case, you can expect the bail money you’ve paid to return, minus the bond’s fees. Guilty verdicts allow the court to subtract the handling fees from the bail money.
No Refund of the Bailsman’s Bond Fee
It’s very important to understand that using a bailsman comes with a catch; the result of the case and the ruling of the court do not affect the bailsman’s fees, as these fees are taken as part of an agreement, regardless of the outcome of the case. This means that the 8 - 10% or other fees paid to the bailsman are not refunded. The only way to receive the complete bail money paid is by paying it fully yourself, either through a cash deposit or collateral assets.
Staying in jail because you’re unable to pay the bail amount upfront can be a very frustrating experience for everyone involved, including your loved ones. Using the services of bail agents will help you ease the burden of such a unique problem. A professional bail bond company will help you make bail and await trial out of jail, and you won’t need to worry about getting your money back as long as you adhere to the signed terms.