We’ve all heard about bail and bail bonds, whether it’s in the news, movies, or neighborhood gossip. Bail bonds take on a different tone, however, when a family member calls you from the county jail in the middle of the night with a request to bail them out. You want to help your family member or friend get out of jail as quickly as possible, but how? How does bail work, and what do you do if you can’t afford the bail?
What is Bail?
Bail is a financial arrangement that allows someone to post collateral in exchange for someone’s release from jail (we’ll refer to the jailed individual as the defendant). In exchange for the defendant’s release, the party who posts bail (which may be the defendant, a family member, friend, or bail bond agency) guarantees that the defendant will appear in court any time they are summoned for their case. This includes the initial pleading, subsequent hearings, and any other mandated appearances.
The principle behind bail is simple—as long as the defendant appears in court, the party who posts bail will get their money back. If the defendant tries to skip town and make a run for it, the court will keep the bail money. As bail is often quite expensive, this provides a lot of incentive for all interested parties to ensure that the defendant shows up in court.
While the defendant is free to pay their own bail, most people can’t afford to do this. Some lucky defendants may have a family member or friend with enough cash or valuable assets to post bail on their behalf, but most people aren’t so fortunate.
Bail amounts are often quite substantial, so it’s difficult for the average person to post bail on their own. To solve this predicament, most people turn to a bail agent or bail bondsman for assistance.
What is a Bail Bond?
Unless the bail agent or bail bondsman has the cash to cover the bail in full (it’s rare to find someone willing to do this), a surety bond company can issue a bail bond through the bail agent or bail bondsman. There are two types of bail bonds:
- Civil bail bonds – guarantees payment of any debts, costs, and interest assessed against the defendant
- Criminal bail bonds – guarantees that the defendant will appear in court when called upon, and guarantees payment for any fines or penalties decided against the defendant
In most cases, the defendant (or the interested party seeking bail on their behalf) must pay the bail bond agency 10% of the bail amount. The bail bond agency will then secure the remaining collateral, produce the bail bond from the surety bond company, and deliver the bail bond to the court to secure the defendant’s release.
Depending on the bail amount and the availability of assets for collateral, it could take a bail bond agency as little as several hours to produce a bail bond. For larger cases with substantial bail amounts, it could take a few days.
What Happens After You Post a Bail Bond?
Once the collateral is in place and the bail bond is posted, the defendant should be released from jail immediately. After that, what happens next depends on the defendant’s actions.
As long as the defendant appears in court as promised, the bail bond will be dissolved at the conclusion of the case.
All collateral will be returned, minus the 10% fee for the bail bond agency’s profit. However, if the defendant fails to appear in court, the bail bond is forfeited and the court will seek the remaining 90% of the bail from the bail bond agency.
The bail bonds agency may use collateral from interested parties (e.g. real estate, jewelry, art, stocks, etc.), though a chunk of the bond will likely come from their own agency (hence the accompanying business of bond recovery agents).
How to Post Bail in Arizona
As soon as you get the call for bail from a family member or friend, your first action should be to consult with a criminal defense attorney. The jail may not allow family visitors yet, but attorneys are free to meet with clients as soon as booking is complete.
Depending on the case, your attorney may be able to negotiate a lower bail amount. If you’re lucky, the court may even agree to release the defendant on their own recognizance without bail.
In many cases, the defendant will need to appear in court before a judge can set bail. When considering the release conditions, the judge will consider a number of factors such as the severity of the crime, the defendant’s criminal history, any danger the defendant may present to the community, and if the defendant represents a flight risk.
The judge will also determine whether the bail is cash or non-cash, and if you can produce a secured appearance bond that doesn’t require the full bond amount paid in cash. Again, having an experienced attorney is instrumental in attaining the best bail conditions possible.
Assuming bail is permitted and you can pay the bail (or the secured deposit) yourself, Arizona jails accept three forms of payment—Postal money orders, Western Union money orders, or cashier’s checks. You can obtain a Postal money order from the Post Office, a cashier’s check from your bank, and a Western Union money order from most major gas stations or grocery stores (Circle K, 7-Eleven, Basha’s, Frye’s, etc.).
Call the jail to see who you should address the check to (for example, in Maricopa County, you should address the check to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office). For checks of $10,000 or more, you’ll need your Social Security number to get the money order and when you deliver payment to the jail.
What Happens If You Cannot Post Bail?
If you cannot pay the bail or the minimum amount required for a secured appearance bond, you’ll need to contact a local bail bond agency. Your attorney should be able to recommend one or two reputable options that they’ve worked with in the past, and in fact some bail bond agencies have referral discounts or special offers when you’re referred by an attorney.
Expect to pay a 10% cash fee and put up some type of collateral, such as your home, vehicles, investment accounts, jewelry, art, or valuable collectibles.
Hire a Good Criminal Defense Attorney
As we have explained several times throughout this article, working with an experienced criminal defense attorney can make all of the difference. Having someone on your side that thoroughly understands Arizona criminal law may help reduce the amount of bail money required to release you from jail, or, in a best-case-scenario for the defendant, have the charges completely dropped. Our criminal defense team at JacksonWhite has a proven record of improving the future of our clients and taking control of these difficult situations.
Call the JacksonWhite Criminal Law team at (480) 467-4370 to discuss your case today.