Of all the favors that someone can ask of you, posting bail on their behalf is a big one, although you can take a little pleasure from the fact that you’ve got a friend that trusts you enough to want to share this experience with them (albeit from the right side of the jail cell).
Whether or not your friend has done what they’ve been charged with, if they find themselves under arrest and in jail with a trial ahead of them, they may be eligible for release on bail, and you are in a far better position to work through the steps than they are.
The first thing you need to do in this situation is understand what bail is and how much it has been set at. Then you’ll be able to consider all your options.
Money bail is set by the court (or, in some cases, a “bail schedule”, which is simply a lookup of common charges and bail amounts that is used in some jurisdictions to make the process more efficient and not dependent on the presence of a judge) taking into account the charges and the person under arrest. The purpose of setting bail is to both allow the offender to be released from detention ahead of future trial proceedings (which is better for everyone), but to create appropriate incentives for them to appear at trial proceedings when they are scheduled.
The point of money bail is that, if someone is caught up in such a situation, they may be tempted to avoid the pain, embarrassment and risk of prison time (if convicted) by not showing up at their trial, perhaps by skipping town or laying low. Setting bail means that the charged person, or someone on their behalf, gives a meaningful amount of money (the bail) to the court, which will be returned to them ONLY if they appear at their trial and related proceedings.
If they appear, all this money will be returned, regardless of the outcome of the trial (i.e. even if the person is found guilty and sentenced to time in prison, the bail money will still be returned to them, or the person that posted the bail).
This is why bail amounts are set relatively high. While debate exists about whether the money bail system is fair, it it the system that we have in place, and the alternative to posting bail is to remain in detention for days, or perhaps weeks or even months, while waiting for the trial to begin.
If the amount of bail is too high for the persons charged, or you, their loyal friend, to provide, your best option will be to use the services of a bail bondsman.
Getting a bail bond means posting a fraction of the total bail amount – usually 10% – with the bail bondsman providing the assurance to the court for the full bail amount in the event that the arrestee does not return for their trial. This obviously makes posting bond much easier, and allows your friend to be released from jail while awaiting next steps.
The cost of using a bail bond is that you don’t get the 10% that you provided back. This is kept by the bail bondsman as the cost of providing their services.
In addition to this payment, you’ll need to provide some collateral to the bail bondsman – perhaps the title to your vehicle or one or more items of value that they can hold onto while your friend makes good on their commitments to appear.
If you have the funds available to post bail, it is obviously cheaper from a purely financial perspective to post the full bail amount directly to the courts. Of course, bail amounts can run into the tens of thousands of dollars or more for even the most common felony charges, and having that money unavailable for months may be a significant inconvenience. If you don’t have the funds available, or you need to maintain access to your savings, a bail bondsman may be the only clear option.
If you do post bail for a friend, either directly to the court or through the services of a bail bondsman, there’s one more step you need to keep in mind – making sure that your friend follows through on their commitment to make their necessary appearances and takes whatever responsibility is required for their actions.
Otherwise, that’s your money and your collateral, and no doubt your friendship, that you’re losing.