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How the Bail Process Works

The purpose of the bail system is to allow a criminal defendant to be released from jail while awaiting trial, and set up a financial guarantee with the court for the defendant's future court proceedings.

When someone is arrested, they're typically taken to a local jail for booking. During the booking process, a magistrate will decide whether or not to set bail. Once arrested and booked, there are typically three release options for the defendant, which are: release on their own recognizance, cash bail, or surety bond.

  • Own Recognizance (OR) - Used for lesser offenses, defendants can be released on their Own Recognizance.
    The defendant simply signs a written promise to appear in court.
  • Cash Bail - For cash bail, a person must post the total amount of the bond, in cash, to the court. If the defendant fulfills all court appearances, the cash will be returned, typically within 60-90 days. However, if the defendant fails to appear, the cash bond is forfeited to the court.
  • Surety Bond - A surety bond is a contract between the court and the bail agent who posts the bond for the full bail amount. It financially guarantees the defendant will show up for all court proceedings.

After an arrest and when a bail amount is set, a bail bond agent is then called, usually from a friend, relative, lawyer, or defendant. This initial consultation will involve gathering basic information of the defendant and cosigner(s), allowing the bail agent to assess the risk of posting the bond for the defendant. The agent will also inform the person of the cost of the bond premium, usually 10% of the bond amount, required to bail out the defendant. Most bail bond companies are willing to set up financing arrangements if the full payment cannot be paid.

When both parties are satisfied with the conditions of the release, they'll typically meet at the jail where the defendant is held. Once there, payment will be made and paperwork will be filled out and signed. The forms vary for each bail bonding company; however, there will usually be an Indemnitor Agreement, which is to be understood and signed by the cosigner(s). This agreement means that should the defendant fail to appear in court, the cosigner(s) will be held responsible for the full amount of the bond.

The bond is then posted, and the defendant will be released from jail.