How does posting bail work?
March 29, 2012Criminal Law
How does posting bail work? Or, why do bounty hunters exist?
The other day a friend asked me “What happens to the money you paid in bail if you die before you go to trial?” I’ll have answer to that question below, but first let’s answer a more basic question: How does bail work?
If you get arrested, at your arraignment, the judge will decide if you need to post bail in order to remain outside of jail while you wait for your trial. If you have a history of missing court appearances, or seem a likely flight risk, the judge can remand you to jail without bail while you wait for your trial. That’s not very common, however. Typically, the judge will set a bail amount which you (the defendant) are required to pay if you want to await your trial outside of jail.
Once the bail amount is set, you have 2 options: Pay the entire amount or get a bond company to do so for you.
Paying the entire amount is often called posting “cash bail” or “cash bond.” Once you pay this amount, you’ll be released from jail. So long as you appear at all of the necessary court appearances, you can get the bail money back. However, if you plead guilty or are found guilty at trial, the court typically will apply the bond money towards your fines and costs.
Getting a bond company or bail bondsman to post the bond for you is know as posting a “bail bond” or “surety bond.” So how does a bail bond work? In order to get a bail bond, you have to pay the bond company 10% of the bail amount. The bond company then pays the court the full amount of your bail (or at least signs a contract promising to do so). In order to get a bail bond, you will normally need a co-signer (a friend or family member, typically) who can prove that they have the money to pay your bond if you “skip bail” — meaning you don’t show up for court. Because if you skip bail, the bond company loses the money they paid to the court — their only chance of getting it back is to either get it from the co-signer, or find the defendant.
So what happens if you skip bail? That’s where bounty hunters can get involved.
Bounty hunting is legal in the United States, and has been so since shortly after the Civil War, and it is easy to see why. If you get arrested and the court sets your bail at $100,000, and you find a bond agency who will post the bond in exchange for $10,000 (meaning they are out of pocket $90,000), and then you skip town, the bond agency is VERY interested (as in $90,000 worth of interested) in bringing you back — because if they get you back into the judicial system, they can get their $100,000 back. That’s there the bounty hunters come in. They normally work on a contingency fee, getting paid a percentage of the bond amount for returning the defendant to the jurisdiction he/she fled.
So what does happen if you die while out on bail? If you posted a cash bond, the money will be returned to your estate. However, if you used a bond company, they typically keep the 10% you put down. What should you take away from this? 1: Don’t get arrested. 2: If you do get arrested, and use a bail bondsman, don’t die.