You Probably Don't Understand Bail Bonds (And That's Okay)
Have you ever had to bail someone else out of jail? If you're like most people, then you're probably shaking your head "no" right about now. The thought of you or someone you know ending up behind bars isn't pleasant, but the reality is that people from all walks of life might find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Simply being arrested isn't proof of guilt, so finding yourself in jail doesn't necessarily mean that you've done anything wrong. If it does happen to you, then your number one goal is likely to end the ordeal as quickly as possible, and that's where bail bonds come in.
Most People Don't Understand Them
Bail isn't a get-out-of-jail-free card. Instead, bail is collateral that a defendant provides to the court to ensure that they will show up for their court date. In most cases, bail is set by a document known as a bail schedule. The severity of the defendant's crime determines the amount chosen for bail. You pay this money to the court, but only temporarily. Once you show up for your court date, the system returns the money to you.
While most states have laws to prevent excessive amounts of bail, most people still have difficulty providing sufficient collateral on short notice. Bail bonds help people cover this gap.
Bail Or Bail Bond?
If you pay money directly to the court, then you are paying bail. When you contact a bail bond agent, you are buying a bail bond. What's the difference? A bond agent is an individual recognized by the court that can vouch for you in exchange for reduced bail. In most states, a bond is 10% of the total bail amount. You pay this directly to the bond agent, who takes the money as a fee for their service. Unlike paying bail, you do not get your bond payment back. While this can be a tough pill to swallow, bond payments are drastically less than most bail amounts, making them a very reasonable alternative for many people.
What Happens If You Don't Show Up?
If you pay bail and then skip your court date, you forfeit your bail amount. The consequences for skipping your court date can be somewhat more severe if you have instead paid for a bail bond. Bond agents have the authority to bring in defendants that choose not to show up for their arraignment or hearings. Bond agents also tend to be fairly good at this, since they have a strong financial incentive to ensure that their clients arrive at their scheduled court dates.
Finding yourself stuck behind bars isn't fun, but understanding how bail and bail bonds work can help you to make the right choice and get back to your life as quickly as possible.