What Does Bail Cost?

Depending on whether you pay cash (for the total bail amount) or have a bail agency post the bond for you (a small percentage of the bail pays for a surety premium), the cost of bail can vary quite a bit.  In some cases bail is extended according to the jurisdiction’s bail schedule, which lists the most common types of offenses and defines the minimum bail amount for each charge.  More often, the judge will set the bail amount during the arraignment hearing, where other factors will be taken into consideration (such as severity of the crime, residency, employment, risk of flight, etc.)

How is the Bail Amount Set?

Each state’s Department of Insurance oversees the bonding industry within its borders, and defines the maximum percentage allowed for bond premiums.  In California, the standard premium is 10% of the face amount of the bail and there is also a bond fee of $15 per bond; i.e. if bail is set at $5000, then the premium is $500 plus $15 or $515.  Bail Hotline offers an 8% premium for clients who are union members, active members of the military, or have retained private counsel.

Though the actual bail amount is set by the court, you may be able to request a lower bail amount if you cannot afford the premium or face amount – depending on the state.  The Eighth Amendment (adopted as part of the United States Bill of Rights in 1791) prohibits the government from imposing excessive bail, excessive fines, or cruel and unusual punishment.

How Can Bail be Paid?

Sometimes the bail is “cash-only” and must then be paid in cash directly to the jail; otherwise a personal check is acceptable.  You might be able to pledge your home as collateral instead of cash, but there must generally be value of 2x the bail amount (this process could also take several days or weeks, as opposed to a matter of hours).  If you cannot pay the face amount of your bail in full, then a bondsman is your best option.  Bail companies charge a premium for providing a surety bond for your release; basically they are guaranteeing you will appear in court on the date stipulated.

The bail premium is nonrefundable after the bond is posted and accepted by the court system; at this point the bond company has liability and the premium is considered to have been fully earned.  The premium is good for one year, and must be paid again if the case goes longer. The bail can be handled by an out-of-state friend or relative, with faxed contracts and a credit card or wire transfer.

Bail Hotline offers flexible payments plans and payment options if you cannot afford the full premium to post bail, and we can work wih you to meet your specific requirements.  Keep in mind that if you do pay your bail in full, rather than securing a bail bond, the court may deduct court fees, fines, and even reimbursement for its public defender expenses before refunding the balance.  Statistically speaking, the fees and fines tend to be lower in cases where bonds are posted.

When Is a Bail Bond Exonerated?

After the legal process is finished, the bond is exonerated.  This means that the defendant is released from the obligation to appear or otherwise follow the court’s directives – which were promised as a condition of release.  The guilt or innocence of the defendant has no bearing exoneration and the bail balance is then released to whomever is named on the bail receipt.  Any payments still owed on the bond premium are still due to the bail agency.

How Does Forfeiture Occur?

When a defendant fails to appear in court as directed, a forfeiture of the bail takes place and a bench warrant is issued for their arrest. In some cases it may be possible to reinstate the bail bond if the defendant works through the bondsman or an attorney to set a new trial date.  There is generally 30-90 days to reinstate the bond or return the defendant to court. If the deadlines have passed, the court will issue a summary judgment and the total face amount of the bail must be paid.

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