In some cases, a written promise to appear in court isn’t enough, and the court will want a financial guarantee that you will appear in court. Bail is a process by which you pay a set amount of money to obtain your release from police custody. As part of your release, you promise to appear in court for all of your scheduled criminal proceedings. If you show up to court as promised, the bail amount will be returned. If not, you will be subject to arrest and you will forfeit the bail amount.
Bail proceedings can vary from court to court, but generally the court will have a bail hearing to decide whether to grant bail (in extreme cases a court can deny your release altogether) and, if so, what amount is appropriate. The court will have a bail hearing, during which it will consider:
- Your physical and mental condition;
- Your financial resources;
- Your family ties;
- Any history relating to drug and alcohol abuse;
- Any criminal history;
- Any previous record concerning appearance at court proceedings;
- The length of your residence in the community.
Along with the monetary bail determination, the court could also impose restrictions on your release like limiting your travel, enforcing a curfew, revoking gun ownership privileges, or requiring drug, alcohol, medical, or psychological testing or treatment.
Posting Bail and Bail Bond Agents
Once a court has set the amount of your bail, that amount, or a specified percentage, must be “posted,” or paid to the court. Generally you can pay in cash or an approved cash substitute, such as a money order or cashier’s check. Once you’ve posted bail, the court will issue a document or an order that shows you may be released.
If you can’t afford to post your own bail, you can contract a commercial bail bond agent (or bail bondsman) to pay and ensure bond. A bond agent will charge a nonrefundable fee, usually 10 to 20 percent of the total bail. In return, the bail bond agent agrees to pay the remaining amount to the court if you fail to appear for your court proceedings.