If you have never been arrested, you might wonder how bail bonds work. You might think that getting out of jail on a bond is as simple as a person paying the courts an amount of money that will serve as collateral to ensure that they don’t skip town before going to trial. The bail bond process is a little more complex but it is a way that a defendant who has been charged with a crime can remain out of jail while awaiting trial or resolution of a case. Read further to learn how bail bonds generally work. Keep in mind that laws vary by jurisdiction.

Reasons for Setting Bail

After an individual is arrested and booked if there is no evidence of a crime the person may be released. If the charge is for a petty crime, the defendant might be released with an order to appear in court. However, for other crimes, the police may keep the defendant in custody until he or she can appear before a judge. The judge may release the defendant with an order to appear in court on a certain date, require bail as a condition of release, or place the individual in custody until a hearing or trial.

Whether a defendant is allowed to post bail depends on the crime. In some murder or assault cases where an individual is deemed too dangerous to set free, he or she may be denied bail. Also, bail may be set at such a high amount that it will be impossible for anyone to raise enough cash to get the individual out of jail. Bail may also be denied to a repeat offender. However, if a person who has been arrested is not considered dangerous or has no prior infractions, a judge might consider setting bail in an amount that allows the individual to avoid being incarcerated before a hearing or trial.

The purpose of bail is not to punish a person but is to make sure that he or she will appear in court. Not being incarcerated means that the individual can spend more time with family, consult with lawyers, and in some cases may be able to continue working.

How the Amount of Bail is Determined

The seriousness of the crime is often the determining factor for the amount of bail. Persons who commit serious crimes can expect no bail or a very high bail amount. An individual who is very wealthy might be considered at risk for fleeing because it would be easy for him or her to leave the country, so bail might be set high or denied. People who have a long rap sheet and a history of skipping court appearances may also be denied bail. However, some defendants are less likely to flee or fail to appear in court. A person who does not have a history of criminal behavior, who has committed a petty offense, and has strong ties to the community or stable employment may be granted a lower bail amount.

How Bail is Paid

An individual may be allowed to pay cash immediately to be released. The defendant must pay the full amount of the bail to be released. A family member or friend can pay the bail if the defendant does not have the money. Some people may be allowed unsecured bail which means that they sign an agreement that states that if he or she fails to appear in court, the bail amount must be paid. A secured bond requires the defendant or some other person to offer a property such as a home or land as security. If the defendant does not appear in court, the court has the right to seize the property.

Bail Bond Agents

Defendants who do not have the resources to cover bail often ask bail bond agents or bondsmen to cover bail costs. Bond agents make their money by charging fees to secure defendants bonds. The defendant must pay the agent a fee that is a percentage of the bail amount. In most cases, bondsmen charge a fee that is 10-15 percent of the bail amount. For example, if the courts set a bail amount of $100,000, A defendant might pay a bondsman $10,000. The bail bond agent guarantees that the person will appear in court. If the person fails to appear, the bondsman must cover the entire bail amount. Bail bond agents can require collateral such as property or vehicles. If the defendant fails to appear in court, the bond agent can take possession of the property and sell it to pay the bond. A bail bond agent can hire a bounty hunter who has the right to arrest a person who has skipped court and bring them to the police.

In cases where defendants follow through with their court appearances, they or the person who paid the bond may get their money back or have their property released from a lien. However, bail bondsmen do not return fees.