High profile criminal cases, whether in the news or in legal dramas, often have staggeringly high cash bail amounts — sometimes thousands or millions of dollars. However, not every criminal case involves high cash bail. In some cases, defendants are released without cash bail or the bail is set at a relatively small amount. In those cases when the bail is set at a high cash amount, a defendant may have to get financial assistance from a friend, relative, or a commercial bail bond agent to post bail.
Each state (and sometimes each county within a state) has its own bail bond regulations. Generally speaking, a commercial bond agent acts as surety for the bond. The agent posts bail after collecting a nonrefundable fee (typically 10 to 20 percent) from the defendant or family or friends. If the defendant lacks the cash to give the agent as security, an agent might obtain other collateral, such as jewelry, securities, or electronics. In return, the bail bond agent agrees to be liable for the remaining amount to the court if the defendant fails to appear.
Many states have been working to reform their bail bond laws over recent years, and bail regulations frequently change. Understanding the role of bail bond agents and the laws that regulate their practices will help you make the right decision if you find yourself arrested on criminal charges. Learn more below.
Bail Bond Agents: The Basics
There are approximately 14,000 bail bond agents in the United States. Most states require a bond agent to be licensed. However, the license typically is not specifically for bonding purpose, but rather for purposes of property and casualty insurance. To obtain the license, the applicant must meet certain educational requirements. After the license is issued, a bail bondsman can be certified by an insurance company to write bail bonds.
A defendant pays the agent a percentage for writing the bond. In turn, the agent pays the insurance company a premium. The bail agent is responsible for bond payment if a defendant fails to appear and cannot be located. Typically, bail bondsmen have arrangements with local courts under which the bondsmen agree to post a blanket bond. The bond frees the bondsman from having to deposit cash or property with the court every time a new client is taken on. Should any of a bondsman's clients fail to appear at trial, the court can be paid from the bond.
How Do Bail Bond Agents Ensure Court Appearances?
To ensure a defendant's appearance in court, a bail bond agent may require a defendant to check in by telephone or in person, or may require the defendant to be monitored in some other way. A bail bondsman is not obligated to post bail if the agent concludes that a defendant is unlikely to fulfill the obligations of the bond.
If a bonded defendant fails to appear, the court will usually issue a bench warrant and forfeit any of the defendant's bail. Once the bench warrant is issued, it is generally executed by a law enforcement officer. Depending on the state, a bail bond agent may be permitted to hire a bounty hunter to find and apprehend the defendant in exchange for a percentage of the bail forfeited to the court, although the use of bounty hunters is becoming increasingly uncommon.
Limitations on Commercial Bond Agents
Illinois, Kentucky, Oregon, and Wisconsin have outlawed the practice of posting bond for profit. In those jurisdictions, a defendant may be allowed to satisfy the requirements of the bond by posting ten percent of the bail amount with the court. Some other jurisdictions, such as Maine and Nebraska, allow commercial bail on a limited basis.
Dealing with Bail or Bail Bond Agents and Need Help? Contact an Experienced Attorney Today
Posting bail can be a financial gamble. Before you use your resources to post bail for yourself or someone you love, learn about the legal implications and consequences of failing to appear after posting bail. Additionally, state bail bond regulations change frequently and vary from region to region. To learn more about bail bonds agents, bail forfeiture, or your criminal case in general, get in touch with a local criminal defense attorney today.