After someone is arrested, there is a waiting period until their trial takes place. This waiting period will generally last for a few weeks, but it can last up to a few months. The purpose of posting a bond is to eliminate the time that a defendant would spend in jail during this waiting period.
However, before the court will allow the defendant to post bail, it has to make sure that they do not intent to skip their trial by leaving town or the country. This is where the term flight risk comes from. If a defendant has a history of getting out on bail and leaving town, or if they have strong ties to another country, for example dual citizenship, the court might be weary in awarding a bond option. This is why bail exists – it gives an incentive for the defendant to remain in town and attend their trial.
Bail is any form of property that you have which you pledge to the court to ensure the defendant’s return to trial. This could be money, your house, expensive jewelry, your car, your boat, etc. If the defendant fails to appear for trial, they forfeit bail and the court gets to keep it. But the court will not stop at keeping your assets – they will also charge the defendant with failure to appear in court and seek to find them. Once found, they will face serious consequences.
In most cases, your loved one will get bail. However there are exceptions for more extreme cases. Your loved one may not get granted a bond if they committed a:
- Capital offense.
- Crime for which a possible punishment is the death penalty.
- Violent crime.
- Repeat felony offender.
- Crime for which a possible punishment is life in prison.
- Drug charges where the punishment is 10+ years in prison.
It is important to note that a judge can withhold a bond option if the defendant is considered a flight risk (as I explained above) or if the judge thinks that the defendant might try to tamper with evidence, assault a witness, or obstruct justice in any other way.
If you have the option to post bail, one way that you can do it is by posting it yourself. This option will depend on your personal financial situation. Bail can be expensive and coming up with the money can be difficult. However, you can always rely on your larger assets and post them as bail. For example, if you have a house worth $50,000 and your bail is $30,000, you can use your house as bail. Keep in mind that if you do not return to court for your trial, you will forfeit the rights to the property you used to post bail – in this case, your home.
If you determine that there is no way for you to pay for bail by yourself, you have two other options. The first option is having a friend or family member post bail for you. Anyone who is over the age of 18 can legally post bail. This means that any friend or family member who is over the age of 18 can post bail. If you decide to go with this option, you should find someone whom you trust to post your bail for you.
Restrictions on Bail
To help a judge feel comfortable about granting you bail, they could impose certain restrictions on your bail. When you are released from jail on bail, you must follow the restrictions determined by the court. Restrictions on bail are most often put into place to make sure that the community in which you live is safe. Also, it ensures that you will return to court for your trial. A judge might impose these restrictions based on the severity of the crime that you are charged with, your criminal history, your bail history, or if the judge thinks that bail alone is not enough to ensure that you return to court for your trial.
Conditions for Release
- Requirement that you don’t leave the state or country.
- Avoiding contact with the victim(s) involved in your case.
- Maintaining your employment.
- Avoiding contact with witnesses involved in your case.
- Remaining in school if you were in school at the time of your arrest.
- Actively seeking employment if you are not yet employed.
- Actively seeking acceptance into a school.
- Not committing additional crimes.
- Following a curfew.
- Refraining from alcohol use.
- Refraining from drug use.
- Checking in with the police on a regular basis.
- Surrendering your passport to the court.
- Not possessing or using any weapons.
While a judge might come up with other conditions for release for your case, these are some of the most common ones. In order to be released on bail, you might receive one of these restrictions, a combination of these restrictions, or other restrictions that a judge deems fit to give you.
Failure to Fulfill Judge’s Orders
If you fail to comply with any restrictions imposed upon you by a judge, and the court finds out, you will be subject to special penalties. In many cases, these penalties will be fines. If you fail to appear in court at the designated time, you will face additional fines and jail time. In addition, failure to appear in court means that you forfeit your rights to the money or property that you paid your bail with. The court also has the right to freeze your assets if you fail to appear in court.
Types of Bonds
Secured bonds are bonds that are backed up by collateral or money. Examples of secured bonds are:
- Cash bonds.
- Surety bonds.
- Property bonds.
These bonds are backed up by your assets or by money. This makes these types of bonds more than just a piece of papers to the defendant. Secured bonds do a good job of getting the defendant to return to the court for their trial. This is because secured bonds give the defendant something to lose.
On the other hand, there are unsecured bonds. Unsecured bonds differ from secured bonds in that they are not backed by anything tangible. For example, if you have a release on citation bond or release on own personal recognizance bond, you will not lose money or assets if you fail to appear in court. You will be subject to the fines and jail sentences that go along with failing to appear in court. But, you will not lose your bond collateral or money if you have an unsecured bond.
If you have an unsecured bond, it means that the court believes you will return to court without incentive. The defendant simply promises to return to court at the appointed time. It is reasonably believed by the court that the defendant will honor their word. If you are released from jail on personal recognizance, citation, or another unsecured bond form, it is still in your best interest to return to court for your hearing.
The most popular forms of bail bonds are surety bonds and cash bonds. A surety bond is a viable option if you cannot afford to pay bail on your own. If this is the case for you, a surety bond is your best option. A surety bond can be posted by a friend or family member who is over the age of 18 or by a bail bondsman (also known as a bail agent). If you hire a bail bondsman, they will agree to pay your bond if you fail to appear in court. Bondsmen are capable of doing this because they are backed by surety insurance companies. These companies can easily afford to pay the bond.
Regardless, this can be a risky agreement for the bail bondsman. As a result, a bail bondsman will ask you for collateral such as your car, house, jewelry, etc. In addition, bail bondsmen charge a premium. This is generally around 10%. Bail bondsmen will also sometimes ask that you have a friend or family cosign on the agreement, holding both you and someone close to you liable for your return to court. Bondsmen assume that these incentives will ensure that the defendant appears in court.
If you want to pay your bond in cash, the cash bond is a good option for you. In some cases, the court will accept payments made on credit cards or checks as cash bonds. This form of bond will not involve a bail bondsman or any of your loved ones. For people who are financially independent, this is a good option.
Release on Citation
One other bail form is the release on citation bond. If you are just being charged with a minor crime, you might not have to be taken to the police station or attend a bail hearing at all. Instead, you will receive a citation from a police officer stating when you have to appear in court. This is the case for crimes such as speeding and other minor crimes.
Release on Own Personal Recognizance
A type of bail that is similar to release on citation is release on own personal recognizance. If you use release on own personal recognizance, you won’t have to post bail in order to be released. Instead, a judge will say that you are responsible for returning to court for your hearing. If you are not a flight risk, if you are charged with a minor crime, and if you don’t have a criminal record, you might be released on own personal recognizance.
The last type of bond is a property bond. If you use a property bond, you will post personal property in order to be released from jail. This is achieved through the use of a lien in the amount of the bond given to the court. If you do not show up for your court date, you forfeit the property used to pay the bond.
The person that takes on this responsibility is considered a cosigner on your bail bond. If this is an option that you are interested in pursuing, or if you are reading this because you have been asked by a loved one to be a cosigner on their bail bond, it is important to understand the responsibilities of the cosigner.
Acting as Cosigner
If you are in good financial standing and you have a friend or family member who believes that you can afford to help them with bail, you might be asked to be a cosigner on their bail bond. Providing assistance for a loved one is certainly a nice gesture. However, before you do so you should consider the financial implications. Before you agree to the role of cosigner, make sure that this is the best option.
Paying a Bond
Being a cosigner is a big responsibility because it means that you are offering financial assistance to a loved one. If your loved one takes advantage of this situation, you will be held responsible and will have to pay their bond to the court. You could pay this bond as a cash bond with cash, a check, or credit card, or you can pay a property bond with collateral. The following are some generally used forms of collateral for a bail bond:
- Jewelry. While not all courts will accept jewelry as collateral, some will accept expensive necklaces, rings, bracelets, etc. If you want to use jewelry as collateral, you will need to provide a certificate of authenticity to the court.
- Car/Other Vehicles. If you can prove that you own a vehicle, you can use it as collateral. This includes vehicles such as a car, boat, or motorcycle.
- Real Estate Mortgage. If the bail bond is expensive, you can use an appraisal of your house. You can use this as collateral.
- Electronics. In some cases, the court will accept expensive electronic devices as collateral. This includes smartphones, televisions, tablets, and computers.
As you can see, you have a lot to lose if your friend fails to appear in court. For this reason, you need to make sure that your friend is trustworthy.
If you feel that your loved one is trustworthy and you want to become their cosigner, you will be asked to sign a promissory note. As soon as you do this, the bond will become your responsibility. Also, your loved one will be released from jail. It is then your responsibility to make sure that your loved one returns to court. If you notice that your loved one is partaking in any illegal activity while they are out on bail, or if you think that they won’t return to court for their trial, you may cancel the bond. If this occurs, your loved one must return to jail until their trial.
If you cannot afford to post bail yourself, and you cannot find a family member or friend who is willing to post bail for you, you can hire a bail bondsman. A bail bondsman will post a surety bond on your behalf. This means that a bondsman will post bail and if you fail to appear in court, the bondsman will be responsible for paying the court.
However, you shouldn’t look at this as a reason to skip your trial. If you do not show up for court, you make whoever posted your bail liable for you. This means that just as much as you trust the person posting the bail, that person must trust you. If you have a friend or relative post bail for you, they will probably trust you on a personal level. If a bondsman posts bail for you, the will establish trust by asking you for collateral (money or property given to the bondsman until you appear in court).
While it is not always necessary to hire a bail bondsman, it might be in your best interest. This is true if you cannot afford to put up money or property to pay the bond.
Find the Right Bail Bondsman
The first thing that you need to do is to find the right bondsman. You should look for a bail bondsman who comes highly recommended, who has a lot of experience, who seems professional, and who is properly licensed and insured as a bondsman.
Contact the Bondsman
In the technology age, most bail bondsmen are available 24/7, 365 days a year. As soon as you learn that your loved one has been arrested and needs a bail bondsman, you should do some research to find the best bondsman and then contact them, no matter what time of the day it is. This is really all that you need to do to get the ball rolling. Once you contact the bail bondsman, they will intervene and take care of the situation. They can contact the court or jail and determine what needs to be done in order to get your friend or relative the bail that they need.
Meet with the Bondsman
While your loved on is in jail, the bail bondsman will go to them. Your loved one might be embarrassed about conducting a meeting in jail, but make sure they understand that this is just part of the process. A good bail bondsman will be eager to meet with a client no matter where they are and should pick a time that is convenient for them. Make sure that your loved one knows that when they meet with the bail bondsman they should discuss the situation and get to know the bondsman a bit. This will make the bail process much less stressful and help your friend or family member feel confident in the bondsman that you chose.
Apply for a Bond
There will be an application that your loved one has to fill out in order to pay the bail bond. The bail bondsman will go over this application with your loved one to determine the best course of action. Once the application is complete, your loved one will be qualified and ready to purchase the bond.
Fill out Paperwork
There might be additional paperwork that needs to be filled out in order to finalize the bond transaction. Your loved one can go over this paperwork with the bail bondsman. If your loved one is confused about the paperwork, you can hire a lawyer who can assist in this process.
Failure to Appear in Court
If you do not attend your trial, you will commit failure to appear in court. Especially if you are innocent of the crime you are being charged with, you need to attend your trial. This is because failure to appear in court carries with it serious consequences for you. Also, your cosigner faces consequences. If a loved one cosigned your bond, they face serious financial consequences if you don’t go to court. They will forfeit rights to the money or property used to post your bail. Likewise, if you hired a bail bondsman to pay your bail bond, they will be responsible for paying your bail if you fail to appear in court. Particularly if other people are involved with your bond, it is important to understand failure to appear in court as well as its consequences.
Release on Bail
If you are released from jail on bail, it is only under the condition that you will return to court. If you do not, the court will keep the money or property that you used to pay your bail. For example, if your bail was set at $8,000 and you fail to appear in court, you cannot get this money back.
Even worse, if a friend cosigned your bail bond and put up the money to have you released from jail, your failure to appear in court means that they won’t get the money back. It is much easier to attend your trial at the designated time than to risk losing money or other assets that you or someone else posted bail with. In addition, failure to appear in court is a serious crime. You could be charged with a misdemeanor or even a felony for this crime.
Why Appear in Court?
Before you make the decision not to appear in court, consider these things:
- The punishments are harsh: As I’ve touched on, you face serious punishments if you do not appear in court. Many judges consider failure to appear in court an extremely seriously offense. If you commit this crime, you will face large fines and even jail time, on top of the charges that you are already facing.
- It looks bad: Failure to appear in court can only make a bad impression on the judge handling your case. You only hurt your chances of getting a verdict of not guilty by showing the court that you don’t take your case seriously, you are forgetful, or that you purposely avoided the court.
- Forgetting your court date is not an excuse: The court does not accept genuine confusion about when you are supposed to appear in court as a valid excuse. This means that you need to make the effort to know your court date. Write it on your calendar, put a reminder in your phone, or ask someone to call you the morning of your court date to make sure that you don’t forget. Whatever your methods are – do not forget your court date or location!
Before I discuss the valid excuses that can get you out of being charged with failure to appear in court, it’s important that you understand what excuses are unacceptable to the court. If you are charged with failure to appear because of one of the following reasons, you will have to face the fine and potential jail time that the charge carries, as these reasons are not valid:
- Forgetting or mistaking the court date.
- Purposely avoiding your trial or court date.
- Moving and failing to receive the notice of when your court date is.
- Having a previous engagement (appointment, meeting, etc.).
- Going to work.
While some of these excuses might seem legitimate to you, they will not be considered appropriate excuses by a judge. One of the inexcusable reasons not to appear in court that I listed was moving and failing to receive notice of the court date. While you might think that this is not your fault, the court does not feel that way. As soon as they mail the form, they are not responsible for making sure if it reaches you or not.
Now that you understand what will not be accepted as an excuse for failing to appear in court, I will talk about the instances in which you won’t be penalized for missing your court date. A judge will determine if you have committed failure to appear in court based on your individual circumstances.
There are three major cases where there is good cause for failure to appear. These include:
- No notification of the hearing: This is the most common of the examples that I will give. As I stated above, if a notice was sent to you but you moved or did not receive it for some other reason, this is not a valid excuse. However, if there is proof that the notice was never sent to you at all, you will not be held responsible.
- Unforeseeable emergencies: There is not much you can do about an emergency. In most cases, a judge will recognize certain emergencies as legitimate excuses. An example of an emergency that will be accepted by the court in many cases is a medical emergency. If you are rushed to the hospital, you have emergency surgery, or if you are forced to stay in a hospital overnight, you can inform the court and in many cases won’t be charged with failure to appear.
- Lawyer withdraws without notice: If, within a week before your hearing, your legal counsel suddenly withdraws and does not go to court for you, you will not be held responsible. Keep in mind though that this is only the case if your legal representative does not inform you of their decision to withdraw as your legal counsel.
Getting the Bond Back
You might find yourself in a few different situations after attending your trial as asked by the court. If you or a cosigner paid the bail money fully in cash, (if you used a cash bond) you could get your money back in a few different ways. The most common way that the cash bond will be given back will relate to the outcome of your case. If your case ends in one of the following ways, you will get your bail money back as soon as possible:
- The court granted you a diversionary program.
- The court gave you a sentence.
- The charges brought against you were dismissed.
- You were acquitted of the charges brought against you.
If you want to get your bail money back, consult the rules set during your bail hearing. If you were given restrictions to your bail and it is found that you violated bail, you will not get your money back. Likewise, if you fail to appear in court, you will not get your money back. On the other hand, your bail money will be released to you if you follow the requirements of your bail. Once your case is closed, your bail money will be returned to you or your cosigner. You have to attend court in order to receive the money.