How Bail Works
When an individual is arrested for a crime, typically that person will be taken to a local law enforcement station for
booking, prior to incarceration in a station lock-up or county jail. Once arrested and booked, the defendant has several
options for release pending the conclusion of his or her case.
The bail system is designed to guarantee the appearance of a criminal defendant in court at the time the judge directs.
The basic release options available to a defendant are a cash bond, a property bond, a release on his or her own recognizance
(O.R.) and a surety bond.
To be released on a cash bond, an individual must post with the court the total amount of the bail, in cash, to secure his or
her return to court on an appointed date, and thereafter until the case is concluded. Full cash bonds provide a powerful
incentive for defendants to appear at trail. If the defendant shows up for his/her scheduled court appearances, the cash is
returned to him/her. If he or she fails to appear, the cash bond is forfeited to the court. The court also orders a warrant
issued for the defendant's arrest for his/her failure to appear, and said warrant remain outstanding until the defendant
personally appears to resolve the pending charges regardless of the disposition of the judgment forfeiting the cash bond.
In some cases an individual may obtain release from custody by means of posting a property bond with the court. Here the
court records a lien on the property to secure the bail amount. The property must be of equal or greater value of the bail
amount. If the defendant subsequently fails to appear at the scheduled court date, the court may institute foreclosure
proceedings against the property to obtain the forfeited bail amount. The court also orders a warrant issued for the
defendant's arrest for his/her failure to appear, and said warrant to remain outstanding until the defendant personally
appears to resolve the pending charges regardless of the disposition of the judgment forfeiting the property bond.
Own Recognizance (O.R.)
In some states, the judges of the courts usually make the decision to release a defendant by means of their own
recognizance or often referred to as an O.R. bond.
The alternative to the aforementioned bails is the posting of a surety bond. This process involves a contractual undertaking
guaranteed by an admitted insurance company having adequate assets to satisfy the face value of the bond. The bail agent
guarantees to the court that they will pay the bond forfeiture if a defendant fails to appear for their schedule court
appearances. The bail agent's guarantee is made through a surety company and/or by the pledge of property owned by the
For this service, the defendant is charged a premium. To be released pursuant to the posting of a surety bond, the defendant
or a relative or friend of the defendant typically contacts a bail agent to post surety bonds. Prior to the posting of a surety
bond, the bail agent undertakes a detailed interview of the indemnitor (cosigner) of the surety bond, as well as the
defendant and relatives of the defendant, as part of the underwriting procedure for bond.
By involving the family and friends, as well as through the acceptance of collateral, the bail agent can be reasonably assured
that an individual released on the surety bond will appear at his/her appointed court date, as required, until the case is
After completing the interview process, if an agreement is reached, the bail agent posts a bond for the amount of the bail to
guarantee the defendant's return to court.
Once the bond has been posted, a bail agent has a financial interest in supervising the defendant, and ensuring that he/she
appears for trial. If the defendant 'skips', the bail agent has time and financial incentive to find him/her. Significantly,
surety bail bond agents profits only when the defendant shows up for trial.
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