Upon being arrested, the police officer decides whether to "cite you out" with a ticket and a court date with your signed promise to appear, or the officer can take you to jail. That's when you will need to post bail to "get out of jail." 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. Below, you will find more detailed information on factors for setting bail, bail bond agents, and more.
Factors for Setting Bail
To determine what financial dollar figure will be necessary to ensure a defendant's appearance at trial, a judge or magistrate examines the nature and circumstances of the charges, paying particular attention to whether the offense involves malice, violence or other dangers to the community. In setting bail, the court also examines the weight of the evidence against the defendant, whether the person is a flight risk, past criminal history, and much more.
No Bail, and Conditional Bail
Where a defendant poses an obvious threat to the safety of the community, or when the defendant is clearly facing a life sentence if convicted, he or she may be held without bail. International defendants and wealthy defendants with international ties are often held without bail due to the high flight risk.
Defendants may also be released on conditions that don't involve money including surrendering their firearms, undergoing drug or alcohol testing and/or treatment, checking in with a probation officer, and more.
Bail Bond Agents
Once a court has set bail, it must be paid in cash, money order, cashier's check or real property equity bond to the Clerk of the Court. Once posted, the court will issue a release order to the sheriff holding you in custody.
If you can't afford to post your own bail, you can hire the services of a commercial bail bond agent (bail bondsman). 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.
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.
Penalty for Failing to Appear
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.
Have You Posted Bail? Let an Attorney Help You With the Process
It's critical that you understand the specific terms of your bail and your upcoming deadlines to avoid any penalties. A seasoned criminal defense attorney can help you not only stay on top of your bail process, but can also plead your case ahead of time for a reduced bail. Getting a criminal defense attorney involved early on in your case will also help you better prepare your case for trial.