How Do Bail Bonds Work?
Q. What does a bail agent do?
A. When someone is arrested, an indeminitor (usually a family member of friend) will use the services of a bail agent to obtain release of the defendant. The bail agent will usually ask for 10 percent of the full bail amount as security to obtain the release. For example, if the bail is $5,000, the premium (the amount paid to the bondsman) will be $500. In addition, the indeminitor may be asked to provide proof that they are able to pay the entire bail amount if the defendant "skips bail" (fails to make all the required court appearances, not just the arraignment) The bail agent is, in effect, lending the indeminitor $5,000 for a fee of $500, There generally is no refund with the services of a bail agent are used.
Q. What is bail?
A. Bail is money deposited with a bail bond agent or the court to get an arrested person temporarily released from custody. It serves as a surety (guarantee) that the arrested person will make all of his or her required court appearances.
Q. What is a bail bond or Undertaking of bail?
A. We all know what a bail bond does, but in truth not everyone knows what a bail bond actually is. The face sheet is the actual contract pledging the guarantee for the defendant's appearance in court. The Power of Attorney indicates the pledging surety's authority to issue the bond. The combination of the face sheet and the Power of Attorney is the bail bond.
A bail bond is the document filed with the court by the bail agent which tells the Court that bail has been paid. This document must be presented to the police or court before the defendant will be released from custody.
Q. How long is a bail agreement good for?
A. The bail bond agreement runs for the life of the case being bonded. The premium is normally paid on an annual basis, at the inception and each anniversary of the bond. The premiums are not refundable and are fully earned irrespective of the outcome of the case.
Q. Can the bail amount be reduced?
A. The court may reduce the amount of bail and accept a replacement bond issued for the lower amount. However, any reduction in the premium and/or collateral will depend upon the bail company/surety companies rates and policies.
Q. What happens when a person who makes bail fails to appear in court?
A. If the defendant fails to appear at all required hearings, arraignment, preliminary hearing, trial or sentencing, he or she has "skipped bail." This means s/he has given up the right to stay out of jail while his or her case is going through the courts, and one of several things will happen:
a) The Court will revoke the original bail and issue a "bench warrant" for the defendant's arrest. Failure to appear at a hearing is an additional crime and carries a penalty of jail time in addition to any time the defendant may have to serve if convicted to the crime.
b) The bail agent will try to find the defendant and return him or her to police custody. Once the defendant is back in custody, the bail bond can be "exonerated", meaning the bail agent will no longer be responsible for the full amount of the bail.
c) If the defendant cannot be found and returned to the police within six months, the bail agent must pay the court the full amount of the bail plus additional court costs. The bail agent will then seek to recover that cost from the indemnitor.
Q. What risk, if any, does the indemnitor take when agreeing to be an indemnitor on a bond?
A. The indemnitor accepts responsibility for the defendant and the full dollar amount of the bond if the defendant fails to appear for his or her court date(s) or "skips bail."
By signing for the defendant, the indemnitor guarantees or "indemnifies" to the bail agent that they will be responsible for the defendant and for all money due the bail agency and courts.
Q. What happens at an arraignment?
A. The defendant appears in court before a judge, the charges are read, if the defendant cannot afford an attorney one is appointed, and the plea is entered. Generally, the defendant is brought before a judge for arraignment within 24-48 hours after arrest. The exact time limit varies from state to state, though the U.S. Supreme Court now required that if the defendant was arrested without a previously issued warrant, he or she must be brought before a judge within 48 hours, so that a judge may determine whether there was probable cause to arrest.
Q. What happens in a misdemeanor case?
A. The Municipal Court has criminal jurisdiction over misdemeanors, which are primarily offenses with a maximum punishment of a $1,000 fine and a county jail term of one year or less. Examples of a misdemeanor violation are: shoplifting (depending on the value of the merchandise), prostitution, vandalism and drunk driving.
The processing of a misdemeanor follows this order:
An arrest is made - police take defendant to jail. Three things can happen:
1. The defendant is released - no charges filed.
2. The defendant bails out or is released on his/her own recognizance ("OR") and is scheduled for arraignment.
3. The defendant remains in custody of the sheriff/law enforcement agency and is brought to court for arraignment.
Arraignment & Plea - defendant is brought to court
1. Defendant is informed of the charges.
2. Defendant is informed of his/her constitutional rights.
3. An attorney is appointed. If the defendant wishes to have an attorney but cannot afford one of his/her choice, the court will appoint one.
4. Bail is set by the court, or the defendant is released "OR", or the defendant remains in custody.
- OR -
5. Defendant enters a plea - guilty, not guilty, no contest.