Alternative Ways to Pay Bail

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When a friend or family member is arrested, your instinct might be to rush out to pay the bail. However, you need to remember to protect yourself in the event that the friend or family member does not meet all the release conditions. Guaranteeing someone’s bail could expose you to substantial financial and legal consequences even if the person you helped does not jump bail.

For example, a person’s release could be revoked, leaving you on the hook for bail if the person does not return to jail, when:

  • Misses court: When someone on bail misses court, even for a good reason, a judge can issue a bench warrant if the absence was not excused.
  • Violates the terms of their release: In some cases, judges set conditions for release, such as not contacting victims, not associating with alleged accomplices, and not leaving the state. If the defendant violates these conditions, the judge can revoke the defendant’s release.
  • Gets arrested again: If a defendant who was released on bail is arrested again with new charges, a judge could revoke the bail. However, since the defendant is usually already in jail at this point, you might not be on the hook for the bail amount.

Because of the risk associated with paying bail, it is important to know how to pay bail for someone while protecting yourself. Here are options for how to pay bail for someone, along with the risks that each option poses:

How to Pay Bail for Someone Using Cash or Credit

When a person is arrested, a judge is responsible for setting the bail amount. The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishments. As a result, judges are required to grant bail unless the defendant is a danger to the community or poses a flight risk. Moreover, judges are required to set bail at an amount reasonably calculated to secure the defendant’s appearance in court.

Many states have moved toward abolishing bail except in very limited circumstances. For example, New York state only allows judges to assess bail for violent felonies. All other defendants are supposed to be released without bail, although the court can impose other conditions like GPS monitoring or supervised release.

Many other states, however, use a fairly traditional bail system in which bail can be paid by cash or bond. Paying bail with cash is relatively straightforward. Just take cash or a credit card to the court and hand it over. The court holds the cash or cash advance from the credit card until the end of the trial. If the defendant makes all the required court appearances, the cash is returned to the person who posted bail.

When you post cash bail, you take a few risks:

  • If an emergency occurs, the cash is not available to you. As a result, you may need to incur debt to meet your emergency expenses.
  • If the defendant fails to make all the court appearances, the defendant will have a short period of time to surrender to jail. If the defendant refuses to surrender, you will lose your cash.
  • If the defendant makes all the court appearances and is found guilty, some states allow the court to assess fines against the bail before it is returned. So, if the bail was $5,000 and the defendant is fined $5,000, the court can assess the fine against the bail you posted, meaning that you paid the defendant’s fine.
  • The cash will not be available to pay for the defendant’s defense. As a result, you will have to find another source of funds to pay the defendant’s criminal defense lawyers.

How to Pay Bail for Someone Using Bail Bonds

Bail bonds are promises to pay bail. However, since the court does not know you, a bail bond agency is usually required to post a bail bond.

The way a bail bond works is that the defendant or someone helping the defendant pays a fee to a bail bond agency. While fees vary, the typical bail bond agency will usually charge about 10% of the bail as a fee. The cheapest bail bond agency may charge less than 10%, but a 10% fee is fairly normal.

Based on this fee, the bail bond agency writes a bond to the courts to secure the defendant’s release. In the bond, the bail bond agency promises to pay the bail if the defendant fails to make any required court appearances.

The bail bond agency is backed by a surety company. This surety company is an insurance company that provides financial backing to the bail bond agency. Since a surety is required for a bail bond agency to become licensed, the courts know that the bail bond agency’s promises are financially sound.

In the view of the court, the bail bond agency will protect its financial interest by ensuring the defendant appears in court. But if the defendant fails to appear in court, the court is assured that the entire bail amount will be paid by the bail bond agency because the surety can provide financial backing.

From your perspective, a bail bond saves money because you just need to come up with the fee instead of the entire bail. If the fee is 10%, a bail bond saves you 90% compared to cash bail. Moreover, bail bond agencies are a good source of information because they routinely bail defendants out of jail. As a result, you can always call a bail bond agency to discuss how to pay bail for someone.

However, the bail bonds process has an additional wrinkle that you should be aware of because it might affect you if the defendant has no assets. The bail bond agency does not want to rely on its surety to pay the bail if the defendant fails to appear or jumps bail. As a result, bail bond companies often require collateral that it can use to cover the bail if the defendant’s release is revoked. The form of collateral is generally fairly flexible, since bail bond agencies know that many criminal defendants are not wealthy.

How to Pay Bail for Someone Using Cash Collateral

The easiest way to secure a person’s release is with cash bail bonds. With cash bail bonds, everything is covered with cash. The fee is paid in cash and, often, the collateral is covered in cash.

Be aware that “cash bail” and “cash bail bond” is not necessarily the same thing, although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. Cash bail is when you pay the entire bail amount using cash. A cash bail bond, on the other hand, is a combination of cash and a promise — a bond — to pay more cash if the defendant fails to appear in court.

The way a cash bail bond usually works is that you pay a fee to the bail agency to write a bond and secure the defendant’s release. Again, the typical fee is 10% of the bail amount. You then sign a contract with the bail agency to repay it in the form of cash to cover the remaining bail amount if the defendant fails to appear in court.

In some cases, this contract is sufficient. For example, if you are financially stable and the bail amount is low, the agreement is sufficient. In other cases, you might be required to deposit cash with the bail bondsman as collateral. The bail agency holds the cash in its safe until the case is completed and the judge exonerates (releases) the bail. If the defendant made all of the defendant’s court appearances, the bail bond agency returns the cash collateral to you.

However, if the defendant fails to appear, one of two events will happen:

  1. The bail bond agency will track the defendant down to serve the bench warrant and turn the defendant over to the local jail.
  2. If the defendant cannot be found, the bail bond agency will take the cash collateral to the court to pay off the bail amount.

In some jurisdictions, a court can set bail at differing amounts depending on whether the bail is secured with cash or bond. For example, a court may set bail at $5,000 cash or $10,000 bond. Since cash collateral would result in a larger outlay of cash in this example, your best option would be to either pay cash bail or learn how to pay bail for someone using other forms of property.

How to Pay Bail for Someone Using Real Estate

Bail can be paid using real estate in two different ways. In some states, a property bond can be established directly with the court. To establish a property bond, the owner of a house or other property signs a lien with the court to secure the defendant’s release. If the defendant fails to appear and the release is revoked, the court can begin foreclosure proceedings to collect the bail from the sale of the home.

Alternatively, bail bond agents also accept real estate as collateral. For example, if you own a house or other property, you can use your property as collateral for the bond by providing a lien to the bail agency. When you use property as collateral with a bail bond agency, you usually provide the deed to the property to the bail bond agency which holds the deed in its safe until the end of the case. If the defendant makes all the required court appearances, the deed is returned. If the defendant fails to appear in court as required, the bail bond agency can use the deed to foreclose on the property and sell it to recoup the bail amount.

Using real estate to secure bail can be complicated and risky for a few reasons:

  • If the bail is forfeited, you will lose your property. This means bail secured with your home could result in homelessness if the defendant misses any court appearances.
  • To accept real estate as collateral, you will need to have enough equity in the property to cover the bail amount. If you just started buying a home, you might not have enough collateral.
  • When a court or bail agency uses real estate to secure a bond, you usually need an appraisal or property tax assessment to prove that the property’s value is sufficient to cover the bail.

Since the requirements to use real estate to secure a bond could vary, you will need to discuss the documentation you need and how to pay bail for someone using real estate directly with the court or bond agency.

How to Pay Bail for Someone Using Personal Property

Personal property can also be used as collateral to secure a bail bond. Some examples of personal property that bail bond agencies may accept as collateral include:

  • Vehicle titles
  • RV titles
  • Jewelry
  • Firearms
  • Gold or silver coins

Like other forms of collateral, the bail bond agency will hold the collateral in its safe or safety deposit box. If the defendant fails to appear, the collateral is sold to cover the full bail amount.

Some bail bond agencies may not accept personal property as collateral or may limit the type of collateral accepted. In these cases, a bail bond can still be secured using cash collateral by selling personal property to raise the collateral. For example, if you want to secure a bail bond using electronics, furniture, musical instruments, or other property that is bulky or difficult to appraise, you might need to convert the property to cash at a pawn shop or private sale, then use the cash as collateral. While this adds a step to the process, it can broaden the type of property used for a bail bond.

How to Pay Bail for Someone Using Investments

Another source of collateral for bail bonds is investments. Specifically, stocks, bonds, and certificates of deposit can be used to secure a bail bond in two ways.

  1. You can take out a loan from a bank using the investments as collateral. You can then use the loan proceeds to pay cash bail or as collateral for a bail bond.
  2. You can provide the investments to the bail bond agency as collateral for the bail bond.

The benefit of using the investments as collateral for a bank loan, then using the loan proceeds for bail or a bail bond is that a bank will usually give you a better valuation for your investments than a bail bond agency. In fact, a bail bond agency will usually assess a premium on the investments to guarantee that the bail can be covered if the value of the investments drops. For example, a bail bond agency might require collateral in the form of investments worth $12,000 to secure a $10,000 bond just in case the value drops.

Similarly, you will need to compare the fees associated with a bank loan and a bail bond. The bail bond usually has a 10% fee, while bank loans will require interest payments. If the interest rate is less than 10%, a loan might be a better deal.

Bail is intended to allow criminal defendants to leave jail while awaiting trial. This allows defendants to support their families and search for legal solutions to their case rather than simply clogging up jails. As a result, paying someone’s bail is usually positive for the defendant and society.

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