Getting Out of Jail With Bail Money: Setting Bail, Posting Bail, Bond Agents, and Penalties

Bail is the money you pay to be released from jail or custody after your arrest and before trial. Once a court sets the amount of bail, that amount, or a specified percentage, is paid to the court. Payment may be made in cash or an approved cash substitute, such as a money order or cashier's check.

You can post your own bail, or you can find someone else who's willing to pay. Once bail has been posted by you or someone else, the court issues a document or court order providing for your release from jail.

This article addresses various aspects of bail, including factors for setting bail and posting bail. The article also discusses bail bond agents and penalties for failing to appear in court after posting bail.

Posting Bail: Factors for Setting Bail

When determining your bail amount, a judge or magistrate examines the nature and circumstances of the charges against you. The goal of bail is to ensure you appear at trial.

The judge will pay particular attention to whether your offense involves malice, violence, or other dangers to the community. In determining the amount of the bail, the court also examines:

  • The weight of the evidence against you
  • Whether you're a flight risk
  • Your past criminal history and criminal record
  • Other factors the court finds relevant

Posting Bail: No Bail and Conditional Bail

If you pose an obvious threat to public safety, or if you're facing a life sentence if convicted, you may be held without bail. An international or wealthy defendant with international ties would be more likely to be held without bail due to an increased flight risk.

You may also be released on conditions that don't involve money. These conditions can include:

  • Surrendering your firearms
  • Undergoing drug or alcohol testing
  • Undergoing drug or alcohol treatment
  • Checking in with a probation officer

The court may also be willing to release you on your own recognizance. That means you don't have to pay any bail. Instead, you promise in writing to appear for all future court dates and court appearances. This is more likely to happen if you're charged with a misdemeanor as opposed to a felony.

Posting Bail: Bail Bond Agents

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 or bail bond company will charge a nonrefundable fee. This amount is usually 10% to 20% of the total bail or bond amount. In return, the bail bond agent agrees to pay the remaining amount of money to the court if you fail to appear for your court proceedings.

Once a court has set the full bail amount, it must be paid to the clerk of the court in:

  • Cash
  • Money order
  • Cashier's check
  • Real property equity bond

Depending on where you live, you may be allowed to post bail using a credit card. Once your bail is posted, the court issues an order for your release from custody.

If someone posts bond on your behalf, the bail bond becomes a three-party contract. The contract is between you, the court, and the third person. That third person is known as a surety. The surety becomes responsible for securing your appearance in court.

People who may act as a surety for a criminal bond include licensed bond agents, your friends, and your family members. The surety promises to forfeit to the court the amount of the surety bond if you fail to appear as required during your criminal case proceedings.

Posting Bail: Penalty for Failing To Appear

The penalty for failing to appear as required after release is a fine, imprisonment, or both. Federal law provides that any term of imprisonment for failing to appear must run consecutively to any other criminal sentence.

If uncontrollable circumstances cause your failure to appear and you immediately appear once it's possible to do so, you have a valid defense to a failure to appear charge. Bail money is typically returned once your case ends and you fulfill all your obligations. Sometimes administrative costs are deducted.

Have You Posted Bail? Get Legal Advice From a Criminal Defense Lawyer

You must understand the specific terms of your bail and any upcoming deadlines to avoid any penalties when navigating the criminal justice system. A seasoned criminal defense attorney can help you post bail or seek lower bail. Getting a criminal defense attorney involved early on in your case will also help you navigate the criminal charges against you.

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