Most people understand what bail is – the money that the court system requires someone who has been arrested to provide in order to secure their release. The amount of bail is determined by a judge, who (ideally) makes the amount high enough that the arrestee can be trusted to show up at their court hearing (because otherwise they would give up the bail money), but low enough that they are not prevented from exercising this option due to an inability to gather these funds. In fact, the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires that bail not be “excessive”.
To post a “bond” is often used interchangeably with posting “bail”, which is understandable because the concepts are similar and the outcome is much the same for the arrested person (i.e. they are able to be released until their next court date). But to post a bond means that instead of providing an amount of money, which many people simply don’t have the ability to come up with, especially when it means parking that money in the court system while they wait for their day in court, they are able to get a third party to commit to putting up the bail funds should they fail to show up.
There is a form of bond that doesn’t require any money at the time of release, but which allows the arrestee to sign a commitment to attend their required court date. If they fail to show up, they may be subject to significant financial penalties on the basis that they did not follow through on this commitment.
The Role of The Bail Bondsman
But returning to the bond secured by a third party. What would make someone take responsibility for an arrestee, and risk their own money, on the promise that the arrestee will follow through?
There are two things at play here. Firstly, the bail bondsman is paid up front by the arrestee with a portion of the bail amount (often 10%). This money is not refundable, and can be thought of as the fee paid for the services rendered by the bail bondsman.
Secondly, bail bondsmen are usually quite skilled at keeping tabs on their customers, and ensuring that they show to their court appointments.
Bail is fully refundable if the arrestee follows through on their commitment, but requires that they have this amount of money available at the time that they are requesting release. The bail bond system allows arrestees to avoid coming up with these funds, and in return, charges a portion of the bail amount for this benefit.
What option works for any individual comes down to their ability to raise cash, and sometimes quite a lot of cash, quickly and at a time when the future is uncertain, given what’s happening to them. Bail bonds provide a useful and valuable services to people that do not pose a danger to the community during this time, but who would otherwise not be able to be released.