Law & Legal & Attorney Criminal Law & procedure

How the Bail Process Works - What You Need to Know

Few things are as startling or, if you've never done it before, as confusing as the request from someone to post bail.
Although you'll be tempted to ask for details, ask only what you need to know, such as his location and the amount of the bail; time is of the essence when someone has been arrested and doesn't want to spend time in jail.
Obviously, the first thing to ask is how much money to bring.
Most jails have standard amounts that have been set by judges when considering common crimes and this figure is not negotiable.
Get full information from the booking officer and ask if the judge has demanded cash.
If the answer is "yes", you will need to produce actual money, since personal checks are almost never accepted.
There are a few states in which debit or credit cards can be used, but the process involves a third entity and is somewhat complicated, so if cash is required, a quick stop at an ATM is your best bet.
Once the cash is turned over to the booking officer, the arrestee will be released to your custody.
By doing this, you are taking responsibility for seeing to it that he shows up for trial, after which your money (less some administrative charges) will be returned to you.
On the other hand, if bail is set at an amount beyond your means, you will need the services of a bail bondsman.
The booking officer may be able to suggest bail bond companies in your area, or you can simply look in the local phone book for a convenient office.
Once there, be prepared to answer a fairly lengthy list of questions and to part with some cash.
Most bail bond companies charge a non-refundable fee of at least 10%, so that if bail is set at $5,000 for example, you will need $500 in cash to obtain it.
They will ask about your relationship to the defendant, what you know about his background, employment, living arrangements, and any other personal information you might have.
Of course, they will also get a report from the police on the details of the arrest.
Then, on the strength of what they learn about the arrested person, if the bondsmen believe that the defendant might not show up for trial, they can request extra collateral from you in the form of real or personal property.
This means you may be asked to back the loan with property worth the full amount of the bail in addition to the ten percent fee, meaning you may be putting your house, your car and any other valued property at risk.
Under the circumstances, it's obviously better to take the money from your bank account than from a bail bond company, if you can afford it.
Whichever way you go, be aware that the process is going to be costly.
Even under a best-case scenario, court cases are expensive and after paying lawyers and court costs, the person you bailed out is probably going to be in debt and you'll be just one of his debtors.
So, unless you're in a financial position to shell out a substantial amount of cash for an indefinite period of time, think twice before acceding to a request for bail.

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