Bail is a sum of money paid to the court, used to get someone out of jail following an arrest but before their trial. Bail is used as a financial incentive for people to show up at the trial, and therefore is usually very expensive. It’s not uncommon for bail to be set at $50,000 or higher, depending on several factors including the severity of the crime.
Your bail fee will be set in a short hearing, often referred to as a “bail hearing.” In a bail hearing, a judge quickly hears the details of your case and sets a bail fee. This is the money you must come up with in order to be released from jail. Again, bail can be quite expensive, which is where bail bonds come in.
A bail bond is a percentage payment on your bail, paid to a bail bondsman (also known as bail agent or bail bond agent). In exchange for a non-refundable fee, usually 10% or 15% of your set bail, a bail bondsman will agree to pay the court’s full bail fees on your behalf. So if your bail is set at $50,000, you’d pay the bail bondsman $5,000 to $7,500 (depending on their fee structure), and the bondsman would pay the full $50,000 to the court. Some bail bondsmen also charge additional fees for processing, gas, and other miscellaneous costs involved with securing your bail.
When you show up for court, your bail is refunded. In the event that you paid the court directly (without using a bail bond), you’d get all that money back after the trial – regardless of whether or not you were found guilty. However, since bail fees are usually too expensive for the average person to pay in full, using a bail bondsman means that they’ll get their money back when you appear at court. The fee you pay to use a bail bond service remains non-refundable.
A bail bond works somewhat like an insurance policy. While the bail fee itself is the court’s insurance policy that you’ll show up to be tried, supplying the bail money is an insurance risk for the bondsman. For this reason, many bail bondsmen prefer to conduct interviews before they’ll take on your bond. A bail bondsman needs to feel confident that you won’t flee before your trial, as the court will keep your bail fees if you don’t show up. Since the bail bondsman is handing over 85% to 90% of your bail fee, they could lose a significant amount if you don’t appear at court.
If you leave town after negotiating a bail bond, the bail bondsman is allowed to pursue you by law. They may do so on their own, or hire a bounty hunter. In these cases, the bail bondsman only gets their investment back from the court if they find you and bring you back to town.
Bail is not guaranteed, and it’s the sole discretion of the judge at your bail hearing whether or not it’s granted. In many situations, bail will be set at an unreasonably high amount when a judge has no cause to deny bail but compelling evidence suggests you’re guilty. Bail is typically denied for those accused of severe crimes and repeat offenders.