If you’re a fan of Perry Mason or Law & Order, odds are you’re familiar with the phrase “bail.” Simply put, bail is the amount of money the court holds until trial is complete to ensure the accused shows up for all of his or her court dates.
In television shows, you’ll often hear judges set the bail amount at $25,000 or $100,000, but the defendant is able to post bail. You might ask yourself, “How does an arsonist have $100,000 lying around to bail himself out of jail?” That’s a good question. Below, we’ll explain how the bail bond process works.
Why Set Bail?
Some people wonder why the courts offer bail in the first place. Should the court really allow accused rapists and murders to walk the streets while they wait for trial to start? The answer is two-fold.
First, one of the mottos of our legal system is that a person is innocent until proven guilty. In some cases, it can take months or years for a case to go to trial. If a person were innocent, keeping them in a jail cell until they are exonerated would be severely unjust. They could lose their job or relationships with their friends and family even before their case had gone to trial if bail didn’t exist.
Also, judges don’t just randomly assign a bail amount. In most states, certain crimes come with a mandatory minimum bail amount. Crimes against another human usually receive the highest bail, with crimes like rape, homicide and kidnapping receiving bail amounts that sometimes climb into the millions. In fact, the highest bail ever set was $100 million!
So How Do They Afford Bail?
Back to the initial question as to how a criminal can afford a five- or six-figure bail amount. This is often accomplished with the help of a bail bond.
A bail bond is essentially an agreement with the help of a third party (a bail bondsman or bail agency) where the party agrees to pay the full bail amount if the defendant doesn’t appear in court. The bail bondsman is protected by a special type of insurance company, known as a surety company, in the event that the defendant skips town. The bail agent usually charges a small percentage and collects collateral to protect their interests and make the agreement work for both parties.
We’ll use some numbers to explain it more clearly. Let’s say Matt gets charged with domestic assault and the judge sets his bail at $5,000. If Matt has $5,000 or a relative willing to stake $5,000 that he’ll appear in court, he can pay a $5,000 cash bond. If he attends all courts appearances and is found innocent, he gets his money back. If he is found guilty and is ordered to pay a fine, he’ll get his money back less the fine.
If Matt doesn’t have $5,000 to post bail, he can contact a bail agent. He can pay the bail agent a 10% non-refundable premium in exchange for the bondsman to stake that he’ll pay the full $5,000 if Matt doesn’t show up for court. In other words, Matt only needs to pay the bondsman $500 plus a small filing fee in order to have the bondsman stake him for $5,000. Although it’s much less of a sum of money to put down in order to get out of jail while awaiting trial, Matt will not be refunded his $500 even if he shows up to all court appearances and is found innocent.
Hopefully you never need to make bail, but we hope today’s post gave you some more information on how the process works.
Related source: HowStuffWorks.com