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Bail & Bonds

The last place anyone wants to find themselves is in a jail cell. And if you’re unlucky enough arrive in one your first concern is getting out as quickly as possible. But how? First you will need to be “booked,” or processed into police custody. Then you may have to post “bail,” a set amount of money you pay in exchange for your release. This article provides an overview of general booking and bail procedures.

Booking

If you are placed under arrest, normally you will be taken into police custody and "booked," or "processed." During booking, officers will generally:

  • Record your personal information (name, date of birth, physical characteristics);
  • Record information about the alleged crime;
  • Record your fingerprints, and photographs;
  • Check for any criminal background;
  • Search your person and confiscates any personal property like keys, phone, or a purse (to be returned upon your release); and
  • Place you in a police station holding cell or local jail.

If you’ve been arrested for a minor offense, you might be given a written citation and released, after signing the citation and promising to appear in court at a later date.

“Own Recognizance” Release

After booking, the next step is arranging your release. The main concern authorities have is that you show up for your future court dates. In certain cases, you may be eligible to be released on your own recognizance. This means you promise in writing to appear in court later on. A judge deciding whether to grant own recognizance release normally considers:

  • The seriousness of the crime;
  • Your criminal record, if any;
  • Whether you pose a danger to the community; and
  • Your ties to the community (whether you are a risk to flee).

If you are released on your own recognizance and fail to appear for your court date as scheduled, a warrant may be issued for your arrest.

Bail

In some cases, a written promise to appear in court isn’t enough, and the court will want a financial guarantee that you will appear in court. Bail is a process by which you pay a set amount of money to obtain your release from police custody. As part of your release, you promise to appear in court for all of your scheduled criminal proceedings. If you show up to court as promised, the bail amount will be returned. If not, you will be subject to arrest and you will forfeit the bail amount.

Bail proceedings can vary from court to court, but generally the court will have a bail hearing to decide whether to grant bail (in extreme cases a court can deny your release altogether) and, if so, what amount is appropriate. The court will have a bail hearing, during which it will consider:

  • Your physical and mental condition;
  • Your financial resources;
  • Your family ties;
  • Any history relating to drug and alcohol abuse;
  • Any criminal history;
  • Any previous record concerning appearance at court proceedings; and
  • The length of your residence in the community.

Along with the monetary bail determination, the court could also impose restrictions on your release like limiting your travel, enforcing a curfew, revoking gun ownership privileges, or requiring drug, alcohol, medical, or psychological testing or treatment.

Posting Bail and Bail Bond Agents

Once a court has set the amount of your bail, that amount, or a specified percentage, must be “posted,” or paid to the court. Generally you can pay in cash or an approved cash substitute, such as a money order or cashier's check. Once you’ve posted bail, the court will issue a document or an order that shows you may be released.

If you can’t afford to post your own bail, you can contract a commercial bail bond agent (or bail bondsman) to pay and ensure bond. A bond agent will charge a nonrefundable fee, usually 10 to 20 percent of the total bail. In return, the bail bond agent agrees to pay the remaining amount to the court if you fail to appear for your court proceedings.

Additional Resources

Finding yourself in jail can be a scary experience. If you’ve been arrested, you may want to talk to an experienced criminal attorney in your area. You can also find more general information on this topic in FindLaw’s criminal law section.

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