Once a court has set the amount of bail, that amount, or a specified percentage, is paid to the court. Payment may be made in cash or in an approved cash substitute, such as a money order or cashier's check. A defendant may post his or her own bail, or may find another person to do so. Once bail has been posted, whether by the defendant or someone else, the court will issue a document or a court order that shows the defendant may be released.
If another person posts bond on the behalf of a defendant, the bail bond becomes a three-party contract between the defendant, the court, and the surety. The surety is the party who, at the request of a defendant, becomes responsible for securing the defendant's appearance in court. People who may act as a surety for a criminal bond include licensed bond agents and friends and relatives of the defendant. As part of the contract, the defendant promises to appear at future proceedings. The surety promises to forfeit to the court the amount of the bond if the defendant fails to appear as required.
The penalty for failure to appear as required after release is a fine, imprisonment, or both. Federal law provides that any term of imprisonment for failure to appear must run consecutively to any other criminal sentence. However, if uncontrollable circumstances caused the failure to appear, and if the person immediately appeared once it was possible to do so, the person will have a valid defense to the failure to appear charge.
Once a case is over and all obligations have been fulfilled, the bond money is typically returned. Sometimes administrative costs are deducted.