If you are arrested, there are two ways you can obtain a release from jail:
- Signing an agreement to return for your court hearing (release on your own recognizance), and
- Making a bail payment.
Judges typically require bail when they think you may not appear at your court hearings.
Bail is a financial incentive that encourages your cooperation. In exchange for your release, you pay a court-ordered amount of money. If you appear at your court hearing, your bail is returned. But, if you decide to skip your hearing, the court keeps your bail payment.
How Is Bail Set?
Bail is set in several different ways. For minor crimes, courts may use a standardized bail schedule. However, for more serious crimes, you must appear at a bail hearing. At a bail hearing, the judge will consider:
- The severity of your criminal charges;
- Whether you are a danger to the community;
- Your criminal history;
- Whether you complied with bail conditions in previous cases;
- Your mental and physical health; and
- Your ties to the community (such as family, work, and education).
However, the court cannot charge excessive bail. Instead, it must be an amount that will reasonably ensure your appearance at your hearings and trial.
Can a Judge Deny Bail?
Bail is not always available. Many states prohibit bail payments when you face violent felony charges (such as murder). And, judges can deny bail under certain circumstances. For example, the judge may deny bail if he or she believes that you are a danger to the community or face a life sentence if convicted. Other times, the court demands an incredibly high bail payment—making bail virtually impossible.
Are There Conditions for Bail?
Attendance at your court hearings and trial dates is always required. However, courts sometimes impose additional conditions in a bail agreement. Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may have to:
- Remain within a certain geographic area (limiting your ability to travel);
- Refrain from drug and alcohol use;
- Submit to drug and alcohol testing;
- Temporarily give up your firearms; or
- Meet with a mental health or substance abuse counselor.
If you violate these conditions, the court will revoke your bail agreement and issue a bench warrant for your arrest. And, you may face additional criminal charges. Courts can convict you of bail jumping even if you are not guilty of the underlying charges. (In some states, bail jumping is a felony.) Therefore, it is very important that you comply with your bail agreement.
What Is a Bail Bond?
Sometimes, you and your family cannot afford bail. In these situations, you can purchase a bail bond. In exchange for a nonrefundable payment (typically 10 to 20 percent of your bail), a bail bondsman will cover your bail through a bail bond.
A bail bond is essentially a contract between the court and your bondsman. The bail bondsman promises that you will comply with the terms of your bail. If you violate these terms, the bondsman must pay your bail.
What Is a Bail Bondsman?
A commercial bail bondsman (or bail bond agent) issues bail bonds. Most states regulate bail bondsman. Depending on where you live, there may be limitations on:
- How much an agent can charge for a bond, and
- Where bondsmen can solicit business or advertise.
Some states also prohibit government officials from recommending specific bail bondsmen. If you need help understanding your state’s rules, contact a criminal defense lawyer.
What Is Bail Bond Forfeiture?
Forfeiture occurs when you skip a court hearing or violate other bail conditions. Typically, the judge will set a “forfeiture date.” If you don’t turn yourself in before this forfeiture date, your bail bondsman must pay your bail.
Once you violate your bail agreement, most states give your bail bondsman the authority to arrest you. Typically, your bail bond agent (or a hired bounty hunter) will try to locate and arrest you before your bail forfeiture date.
Should I Consult with a Criminal Defense Lawyer?
If you are facing criminal charges, you should contact a criminal defense lawyer immediately. A lawyer can represent you during your bail hearing and may help you reduce your bail amount. And, a lawyer can help you understand the terms of your bail agreement and present defenses to your criminal charges.