16 Frequently Asked Questions About Bail Bonds

understanding bail bonds

UPDATED 11/18/20

In the news and on television, you hear a lot of talk about bail bonds whenever someone’s arrested. However, understanding how bail or a bail bond works can be a little more confusing. The good news is that understanding bail bonds isn’t too complicated. And it’s worth knowing just in case you’re ever in a situation where you would get charged with criminal activity.

It should be noted that anyone can be charged with a crime, even if they are innocent. For instance, someone with a disability like epilepsy or another seizure condition could be wrongly accused of being intoxicated behind the wheel if he or she was swerving. In developed countries, the average person is disabled for more than 11 percent of life, and some of those disabilities can present themselves as something else, like intoxication-related behaviors.

If you or someone you care about is arrested and held, you’ll be glad that you read up on the latest news on bail bonds.

1. What Does the Term “Bail” Even Mean?

Have you ever watched a film where someone goes before a judge? The judge will often say something like, “Bail has been set at $5,000.” You’re probably wondering where that money comes from and why the court needs it at all.

Bail is a way of ensuring that someone accused of a crime will come back for future court appearances and will fulfill expectations as promised. Basically, if you’ve been charged with a crime, the court will set your bail commensurate with the severity of the crime. By handing over the bail money, you give yourself the ability to walk out of the courtroom and not have to return to prison.

Of course, if you don’t fulfill your obligations and you shirk your duties, the bail will become the property of the court. Plus, you could be arrested again and end up on the nightly news for your area.

2. What If You Don’t Have Bail Money?

Let’s say that a judge tells you that you need to give the court $1,500 in order to be released from custody. Here’s the problem: You don’t have $1,500 in your savings account. In fact, you’re lucky if you can scrape together $500. But you know from watching and reading news accounts that court cases sometimes take a long, long time to settle.

Does that mean that you have to return to a jail cell and stay there until your court case comes to a close, perhaps months, or a year in the future? Maybe, but not necessarily because that’s where bail bonds come into play.

3. What Does It Mean to Get a Bail Bond?

A bail bond is kind of like the loan that you would get to buy a piece of property or asset. For instance, think back to when you purchased your last car. You saw online in news advertisements that a dealership was offering terrific prices on last year’s models. So you went to the dealership and snagged a car for $10,000 that typically retailed for $15,000. Here’s the problem: You didn’t have $10,000 on hand.

What did you do? You worked with a financial lender to get the money you needed. The money was loaned to you, hopefully at a decent interest rate. Maybe you agreed to pay off your car loan in 36 or 48 months. However, you were able to instantly drive the car off the lot even though the financial lender technically held the title to the car.

Bail bonds operate in the same way. A bail bond is a type of loan, too. But the way the arrangement works is a bit different than how you would get a loan from a banker.

4. How Does Bail Bond Service Work?

Bail bond companies are obviously in business to make money. They do this by using the money that they already have to cover the money that you owe.

A bail bond arrangement might look something like this: You get arrested. The court tells you and your legal counsel that you are being held on $15,000 bail. In other words, you have to give the court $15,000 or else you’re staying in prison for the duration of your case.

No surprise: You want to leave sooner rather than later. You’ve heard of bail bond companies on the news, so you contact your spouse. Your spouse gets in touch with a bail bond provider. The provider asks for $1,500 in cash and the deed to your car to cover the $15,000 as collateral in case you don’t fulfill your court obligations and try to skip town. Your spouse complies, and the bondsman gives the court the full $15,000. At the same time, the bail bondsman or agent asks for a fee, which he or she will get when the bond money is returned.

At this point, you have only paid $1,500 on something that would have cost you $15,000. The bondsman, however, has paid $15,000. The bondsman is taking a bit of a gamble that you’re going to take your responsibilities seriously. After all, when your case is over, the bondsman gets the full $15,000 back. However, if you skip out and wind up on the news’ most wanted list, the bondsman will be out $13,500. At that point, the bondsman will own whatever collateral you offered, such as your car or part of your home equity.

The bondsman is taking a risk, and so are you. But in the end, the hope is that you both get a positive result from the partnership.

5. What Types of Collateral Is Commonly Used for Bail Bonds?

Bail bond agents accept a variety of collateral types. Some of the more frequently seen bail bond collateral items include property deeds, vehicles, jewelry, bank accounts, other types of real estate, and even credit cards. If you have stocks, bail bondsmen may consider accepting them, too.

6. Are Bail Bonds Legal and Ethical?

Some people wonder if bail bonds are legal and ethical. For example, is it proper for someone to require collateral in order to help you get out of a legal pinch?

Bail bonds are absolutely legal in most places across the country, as long as the bail bondsman complies with legal regulations. In most states, bail agents are required to hold active licenses and certifications. Those identifying documents give them the right to operate. Only a few states do not allow the operation of private bail agents.

However, that doesn’t mean that bail agents can make up their own rules for operating. For instance, if you look up news information in some states and municipalities, you’ll quickly see that some places forbid bail bondsmen from advertising in certain locations. Other towns and cities put fewer restrictions on people who offer cash bond services to those who have been accused of crimes.

7. What Are Some of the Most Popular Types of Crimes Where Bail Bonds Are Needed?

Just about any type of crime can require a cash bond. Consequently, bail bonds are used across the board. It doesn’t matter how much the bond was, either. For some people, paying $500 in bond money is completely out of the realm of possibility. For other people, $5,000 is a drip in the bucket and they’re able to pay up right away. Therefore, people from all walks of life who have been arrested will offer work with bond money service companies.

8. What If I Don’t Have Any Collateral for a Bondsman?

What happens if you get into trouble with the law and have no way of giving a bondsman collateral in the form of a deed or owned asset? Are you completely out of luck and likely to spend the next few weeks watching the news from a prison community room? Not necessarily.

It’s quite common for people to ask their friends and relatives to put up cash and collateral when they’re trying to get bonds. There’s no shame in turning to folks who care about you when you’re in a tight spot. Just make sure that you follow through on your end of the bargain, or your friends or family members could lose their property.

9. What If I Make an Error and Don’t Do What the Court Expects?

It’s up to you to make sure that something like this doesn’t happen. From the moment you meet with your attorneys after you’ve been arrested, ask lots of questions. Be sure that you understand what you’re obliged to do in order to get your cash bond money back. Don’t assume anything, either. The last thing you want is to lose your bail bond because you didn’t know what you were supposed to do.

10. Can You Negotiate a Lower Bail Amount?

This is actually a good question that isn’t talked about much in the news. Sometimes, your legal counsel may be able to get you a lower bail amount. Of course, if you’re accused of committing a serious crime, such as your second DUI in a year, you’re going to have little leverage with the court. Then again, if you’ve been arrested for the first time ever, your attorney may be able to work with the court to lower the bail amount.

11. Can You Negotiate Better Terms With a Bail Bondsman?

Just as you can sometimes negotiate with courts, you may also be able to negotiate a better term with a bail bondsman. An example of this could be offering more cash in exchange for a lower amount of collateral. Let’s say your bail was set at $3,000. Instead of giving the bail bondsman $500, you could offer $1,000 for a lower amount of collateral. As with anything, you’ll need to ask to understand the parameters.

12. Should You Shop Around for Bail Bondsmen?

This is a very intriguing question, and it’s one that only you can answer. The main issue with shopping around to find the best bail bond company is that it will take time. Of course, your family or friends could do this on your behalf as soon as you’re arrested.

13. What If You’re the One Looking for a Bail Bondsman But Not the One Arrested?

Perhaps you’re not the one who’s been charged with a crime. Instead, you heard on the news about a loved one getting charged, and then received a phone call from your loved one begging for your help. You’ve never tried to get a cash bond before, and you’re a bit flummoxed by the whole experience.

Before making any decisions, stay calm. Get on the Internet and research bail bondsmen and bail companies in your area. Look at their reviews, if you have a moment, and decide which ones to call. Almost all bail companies operate 24/7 operations because they know people get arrested around the clock.

Make your phone calls and find out what types of arrangements each bail company makes. Then, decide which one fits your needs. If you’re the one who’s going to be putting collateral and cash on the line, you want to feel comfortable. Remember that before your call a bail agent or bondsmen, you’ll need to know the exact amount of the bail, the name of the person who has been charged, and as many details as possible. Otherwise, you’ll end up holding up the process.

14. What If You’re Not Comfortable Using a Bail Agent or Company?

bail bonds

The only way around using a bail agent or company is to pay a court yourself or try to get your legal counsel to reduce the bail bond enough for you to cover the costs. Again, this can sometimes be possible depending on your alleged violation. Talk with your attorneys about the possibilities before making a final choice.

15. Is There a Cash Bond or Bail System for Federal Crimes?

As you may have heard on the news, if you are charged with a federal crime, you will not be eligible for any type of bail. Federal crimes are treated differently, which means that you will not have the opportunity to post bail and leave jail.

16. What If You’re Arrested While Out On Bail?

arrested while out on bail

It probably goes without saying that if you’ve been released on bond, it’s crucial that you stay out of trouble while you wait for your court date. That also means you should avoid spending time with anyone who is committing crimes, as you may end up back in jail yourself (guilt by association). Possible consequences of a second arrest include additional bail and jail.

The court is less likely to trust you to honor the terms of your initial bail if you’re arrested again. If you’re not a flight risk and don’t have a criminal record, you may be able to negotiate with the judge to have the bail amount increased or have other conditions attached to it rather than being returned to jail. Bail arguments aren’t always successful, though.

If you are arrested while out on bail, the judge may revoke your bail cash or bond altogether and you’ll have to return to jail. If someone else paid cash or used collateral to bail you out the first time, they usually won’t be held responsible for paying the bail bonds back. But you’ll probably still be on the hook for it.

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