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Getting Released on Bail in Philadelphia: The Basics

It's 1:00 a.m. on a Friday night. You get a call from your cousin. He got into a fight at the Phillies game and was thrown in the slammer. You've never had to bail someone out of jail. You have no idea who to call, where to go, or what to do.

Understanding the bail bonds process in Philadelphia is important when trying to get your loved one out of jail. Here's some info on getting released on bail in Philadelphia.

How Bail Bonds Work

If you are in jail, chances are you'd like to go home. Although television shows can sometimes make a custody stay look like summer camp, it's usually not that way. So, how are you getting out?

But first, why does bail exist? The system of bail exists so you can have the opportunity to continue your life while awaiting trial. After all, we are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty, and let's face it, the criminal justice system can be as slow as molasses. Who really wants to eat jail cuisine for that long? Not many.

How do I get a bail bond?

Glad you asked. There are four ways in which a person may be released from custody in Philadelphia:

  1. You can use a bondsman;
  2. You can post cash for the full amount of the bond with the court or jail;
  3. You can use your home as collateral; or
  4. The judge can decide to let you free on your own recognizance.

Most people proceed via option #1 -- the bondsman. To get released, you (or a family member) will have to pay a fee known as bail. Who is going to pay that fee? Typically a person known as a bail bond agent will post a bond after collecting a nonrefundable fee (up to 10% of the total bail amount in Pennsylvania) from the defendant, their family, or friends.

Many folks don't have 10 percent just lying around. In that case, the bail agent will take other collateral such as jewelry, a car, or electronics. In return, the bail bond agent agrees to pay the remaining amount to the court if the defendant fails to appear. Why is a court willing to take this chance? Simply put, if the defendant flees, he or she loses his property or bond.

What if the defendant jumps bail?

It'll be bad news if the defendant doesn't appear in court as the judge ordered. The bail agency will often hire someone to locate the missing defendant and have him taken back into custody. The bail agent may also choose to sue the defendant, or whoever helped to guarantee the bond, to recoup the money. Repayment may come in the form of cash, but it can also be made by seizure of the assets used to secure the bail bond.

What should I know before speaking to a bail bondsman?

There is certain information that a bail agent will need in order to help you:

  • Where is the person in custody? Philly has a handy inmate locator.
  • What is the full name and booking number of person in jail? The bail agent will need this information in order to contact the jail.
  • How much is the bail? The bail agent will get this information when they contact the jail if you do not have it. With the bail amount, the bail bondsman can tell you the amount it will cost to post a bond and requirements to get the person out of jail.

What about cash bail?

If you want to cut out the middleman and simply pay the entire bail upfront, here's how. Go to the Bail Acceptance Office. It's always open and they take many forms of payment including cash, credit, debit, and cashier's checks. Bring ID. Call them at (215) 683-7727. Helpful tip: Avoid peak calling hours on weekdays; call before 9 a.m. or after 7 p.m.

Will I get my bail money back?

Usually, provided there aren't any failures to appear or other release violations. Seventy percent of the bail deposit is available for refund 31 days after the final disposition of the case. The person named on the original bail deposit receipt must provide valid identification at the Clerk of Quarter Sessions/Bail Refund Office, (215) 683-7723.

Where can I go to get legal help with my criminal case?

You always get what you pay for, as the saying goes, and quality legal counsel is rarely free or cheap. If you have been released on bail, you may want to retain a lawyer for the next steps in your case. Don't delay; contact a Philadelphia criminal defense attorney at your earliest convenience.

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