How Do Bail Bonds Work?

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A bail bond is money put up to ensure that a defendant appears in court to face his charges. If a defendant is ordered held before trial, he may deposit money with the court in exchange for remaining free. A bail bondsman deposits the money required in exchange for a fee, allowing a defendant to post bail that he may not be able to afford.

Typically, bail bondsmen charge 10 to 15 percent of the bail required. For example, if the court orders a $100,000 bail, the bondsman may charge only $10,000. In exchange, he puts up the remaining $90,000, allowing the defendant to go free. Once the bail bond has been deposited, it may be forfeited if the defendant fails to turn himself in at the appropriate time or make required appointments with the court. For this reason, bail bondsmen keep close contact with their clients. Bondsmen typically employ investigators and bounty hunters to retrieve errant clients who decide to evade court dates.

Questions over the activities of bail bondsmen have led some states to ban the practice, instead allowing defendants to deposit 10 percent of their bail amount directly with the court and allowing that to stand in for the full amount. Some courts also use alternative pre-trial mechanisms, like diversion programs, liens on property and legal citations to ensure courtroom attendance.