Q. What is a Bail Bond?
A. Most people are familiar with bail bonds. Someone arrested on a criminal charge may be held until trial, unless they furnish the required bail. The posting of a bail bond acquired by or on behalf of the incarcerated person is one means of meeting the required bail. When a bond is issued, the bonding company guarantees that the defendant will appear in court at a given time and place. The Government entity (state or federal) in whose court the defendant must appear, is protected by the bond. If the defendant fails to appear, the bond amount becomes payable and is forfeited as a penalty by the surety insurer issuing the bond. Bail bonds usually require collateral (cash, a deed, or other property) to protect the surety.
Bail bonds are issued by licensed "Bail Agents" who specialize in their underwriting and issuance. Bail agents act as the appointed representatives of licensed surety insurance companies.
Q. What is the purpose of bail?
A. The purpose of bail is to assure the attendance of the defendant, when his or her appearance is required in court, whether before or after conviction.
Q. How much does a bail agent charge?
A. The cost to the consumer will be about 10% of the total amount of the bond, plus actual, necessary and reasonable expenses incurred in connection with the transaction. The court determines the amount of the bond.
Each surety company must file rates with the Department of Insurance. Bail agents representing a company must charge the same, filed rates. A "Rate Chart" is required to be posted in a visible location at every bail bond office.
Q. Is there any restrictions on how high my bail can be?
A. The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires that bail not be excessive. This means that bail should not be used to raise money for the government or to punish a person for being suspected of committing a crime. The purpose of bail is to give an arrested person her freedom until she is convicted of a crime, and the amount of bail must be no more than is reasonably necessary to keep her from fleeing before a case is over.
Q. What can I do if I can't afford to pay the bail listed on the bail schedule?
A. If you can’t afford the amount of bail on the bail schedule, you can ask a judge to lower it. Depending on the state, your request must be made either in a special bail-setting hearing or when you appear in court for the first time, usually called your arraignment.
Q. How soon can I appear before a judge?A. A person taken to jail must be brought "without unnecessary delay before the nearest available…magistrate." In no event should more than 48 hours elapse (not counting weekends and holidays) between the time of booking and bringing you to court.
Q. How do I pay for bail?
A. There are two ways to pay your bail. You may either pay the full amount of the bail or buy a bail bond. A bail bond is like a check held in reserve: It represents your promise that you will appear in court when you are supposed to. You pay a bond seller to post a bond (a certain sum of money) with the court, and the court keeps the bond in case you don’t show up. You can usually buy a bail bond for about 10% premium you pay to a bond seller is nonrefundable. In addition, the bond seller may require "collateral." This means that you (or the person who pays for your bail bond) must give the bond seller a financial interest in some of your valuable property. The bond seller can cash-in this interest if you fail to appear in court.
As an alternative a bond agent may be your best option. To find a bail agent, look in the Yellow Pages.
Q. Is bail a matter of right?
A. Although the right to bail has constitutional recognition in the prohibition against excessive bail, bail is not always a matter of right. However, with certain exceptions a defendant charged with a criminal offense shall be released on bail. Persons charged with capital crimes when the facts are evident or the presumption of guilt great, are excepted from the right to release on bail. However, a defendant charged with a capital crime is entitled to a bail hearing in the trial court to determine whether the facts are evident or the presumption great. A capital crime is an offense that a statute makes it potentially punishable by death or life imprisonment, even if the prosecutor / government has agreed not to seek the death penalty. It is presumed that the risk of flight of the defendant is too great when he or she is facing death or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Q. What is the consumer agreeing to in the bail bond contract?
A. The consumer is agreeing to:
The consumer should read all agreements thoroughly, asking questions until all items and obligations are understood.
Q. What does the bail agent do for the consumer?
A. Provides an avenue for the incarcerated person to be out of custody until his/her day in court, allowing the defendant to continue his/her day-to-day life until the criminal matter is resolved. The bail agent will provide the following:
Q. How long is a bail bond good for, and can the amount be reduced?
Q. Who decides how much bail I have to pay?
A. Judges are responsible for setting bail. Because many people want to get out of jail immediately and, depending on when you are arrested, it can take up to five days to see a judge, most jails have standard bail schedules which specify bail amounts for common crimes. You can get out of jail quickly by paying the amount set forth in the bail schedule.
Q. Is it true that a defendant who proves his reliability can get out of jail on his word alone?
A. Sometimes. This is known as releasing someone "on his own recognizance," or "O.R." A defendant released O.R. must simply sign a promise to show up in court. He doesn't have to post bail. A defendant commonly requests release on his own recognizance at his first court appearance. If the judge denies the request, he then asks for low bail.
In general, defendants who are released O.R. have strong ties to a community, making them unlikely to flee. Factors that may convince a judge to grant an O.R. release include the following:
Q. Who licenses and regulates bail agents?
A. Bail agents are licensed and regulated by the California Department of Insurance. You can obtain the licensing status of a bail agent by contacting the CDI Consumer Hotline at 1-800-927-4357 or by visiting CDI’s Web site atwww.insurance.ca.gov.
Q. What if I have a problem or dispute with a bail agent, such as a failure to return collateral?
A. Contact the California Department of Insurance using the information provided in the "Talk to Us" section.