If you’ve been arrested for a crime, during your trial hearing, the severity of the crime is decided upon and your bail amount is set. Bail is a set amount of money that you pay the courts in order to stay out of jail during the time between the hearing and the trial. Depending on the severity of the crime, this amount can differ in value. Bail amounts can be several thousand dollars to several hundred thousand dollars – even in excess of a million dollars. Bail is always set to discourage you from skipping out on trial. When you don’t attend trial, this money is owed to the courts.
If you have a family or a friend who is able to handle the full amount of bail, they can post bail on your behalf. When a person posts bail on your behalf, they are called the surety. They are insuring that you will show up to trial based on this financial promise. They are issued a receipt stating the amount paid. In some states, you must be cleared of charges in order to get the bail money back. In other states, once the trial is over they issue a refund directly to the surety. The trial could last for weeks, even months, but a few weeks after the courts decide, they will get a refund from the state.
In states with private bail, bonds can be issued. Essentially these are funds secured by a lender but issued very quickly. If you show up to trial, the bail money is reimbursed. If you do not show up to trial, you are responsible for these funds personally. If you put up the funds yourself, this is considered a personal loss. If you owe a bail bondsman, they will come after you personally for the full amount of the loan.
If you don’t have a surety or live in an area that does not allow private bail bonds, which include Massachusetts, Maine, Oregon, Illinois, Kentucky, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Washington, D.C., what other options are there? When no funding options are available to you, you may have to spend the time between hearing and trial in jail. This is at no cost to you, but if you are innocent it can be a traumatic experience worth avoiding. If you want to avoid jail time, there are several other options.
A signature bond is a way for friends and family to take responsibility for you showing up to trial without having to actually front the money. A group of three or more people can sign a bond vouching for you. If you show up to court, then no money is needed. If you take advantage of your friend’s goodwill, those who signed the bond will be financially responsible in equal parts to pay the bail amount. When you are allowed that one phone call, choose wisely! You need to be able to call someone you can trust and who will be willing to make arrangements for your bail.
Bail is an effective way to make sure people who are charged show up to their trial. Think of it this way: in this country, you have the right to a trial and you are innocent until proven guilty. These are things that not all countries give their citizens. If you follow the rules of the courts and honor the bail agreement, those who supported you through bail bonds are able to get their money back.
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