If you’ve ever watched a police procedural, you’ll hear the term “bail” come up. It’s usually when a person has been arrested, and must go to trial, but is allowed to go home until then. The person is forced to pay a certain amount in exchange for being allowed to go home.
But you may not have any idea how bail really works. You only know that people pay a fee, and get to go home. In truth, it’s a little more complicated than that.
What Is Bail?
Bail isn’t actually a fee that you have to pay. It certainly sounds like that just from watching television. But this is because the TV shows never take the time to show what happens after the fact.
The idea of bail is not that you’re paying a fee to get out of jail. Instead, it’s more like you’re allowing the court to hold a certain sum of money, with the understanding that you get that money back when you show up for trial. It’s not a fee of any kind at all! It’s just a deposit. This is why bail is often set so high. It’s not that the person has to pay that much, it’s that the court feels the person has enough reason to flee, or enough money, that they have to set a high bail for it to work.
Most people don’t have the money to post bail on their own. Instead, they go to get a bail bond.
Bail bonds are a type of permit bond, or surety bond, that’s specific to bail. That is, like with all permit bonds, the bail bond company posts bail for you. In exchange, you pay them a small fee (usually a percentage of the bail). The idea is that when you show up for court, they get the money back. So it’s something like a short term loan, only the money has to go to a very specific place.
When You Don’t Pay
Everyone has heard the term “bounty hunter”. It’s usually presented as a glamorous, dangerous job full of dangerous criminals and deadly situations.
While that’s certainly one version of it, most bounty hunters go after people who have skipped bail. That is, instead of trying to track down dangerous criminals, they get paid by a bail bondsman to track down people who didn’t show up to court.
These people aren’t allowed to break the law, of course. While they try to bring someone in, they can only do what any other citizen is allowed to do. This does mean that it can get dangerous. Some people skip bail because they don’t want to go to prison for murder or worse!
But by and large, the bail bonds business works fairly smooth. You pay the fee, the company posts bail for you. You then show up at court, and the company gets its money back. As long as you show up for your court date, you’ll have nothing to worry about.