How California Bail Bonds Work

When someone is arrested in California, they must be given an arraignment hearing within 24 hours of the time they were taken into custody.

At arraignment, the person that has been arrested will be informed of the specific charges he or she will be facing and then asked to enter a plea. Once a plea has been entered, the court will set the amount of bail the accused must post as well as any other conditions to be imposed after bail has been posted.

Bail, in simplest terms, is something of value that is pledged to guarantee that the accused will appear in court when ordered to do so. In California, the accused may post bail in one of three ways:

  • Cash
  • Property
  • Surety

Cash: A cash bond requires that the entire amount of bail be deposited with the court as a condition of the accused’s release. If the court orders a “cash only” bail, the court means “cash only” and it will not accept bail in any other form.

Property: The court may accept property that will be pledged to the court as bail. As a general rule, the property pledged must be owned “free and clear” by the person pledging it and it must have a market value that exceeds the amount of bail needed.

Surety: When the court sets bail, it may allow bail to be posted as “cash or surety.” Most of those who face arraignment do not have significant amounts of cash on hand, nor will they own property that the court will accept as bail. Those without the personal resources to make bail will usually turn to a bail bondsman to post a surety bail.

A surety bondsman is someone who will accept the responsibility of assuring the court that the accused will indeed return to the court to stand trial and will obey all conditions of release set by the court when the accused was arraigned. The bondsman is, in effect, personally guaranteeing that the accused will return when ordered. If the accused does not do so, the court will order the bondsman to pay the full amount of the accused’s cash bail.

Who Is a Bail Bondsman?

A bail bondsman, technically a “bond agent,” is someone who has met all the requirements set by the California Department of Insurance. The bond agent then offers his or her services to the public as someone who is willing to act as the surety, in exchange for a fee, for those needing to make bail.

The bail bondsman’s fee, which is called a premium,” is usually 10% of the amount of bail set at the time of arraignment and must be paid before the bondsman will agree to act as surety for the accused. In cases where bail is substantial (over $100,000, for example), the bondsman may also require collateral.

How a Bail Bond Transaction Works

Once someone is arraigned and bond has been set, they will usually contact a family member or friend to ask for help in posting bail. Assuming that the family or friends do not have the resources to bail the accused out of jail, they will contact one of the bail bond businesses that operate throughout California.

When the bail bond business is contacted, the company will need information on the accused such as name, the charges that they are facing, where they are being held, and the amount of bail ordered by the court. With this information, the company can give the person who is arranging bail what the company’s premium will be.

If necessary, and depending on company policy, most bail bond company employees meet with their clients in the company office, at a jail or detention center, or even in a private residence in order to complete the paperwork necessary for posting a surety bond.

Regardless of where the meeting is held, the bail bond company’s agent will require a great deal of what may seem to be “prying” or “unnecessary” information about both the accused and the person requesting the bond. There is a very good reason that the bail bond company needs such detailed information.

As to the person requesting the bond, that person may ask that the bail bond company take installment payments of the bond premium and this information will be necessary to determine the person’s credit risk. It is also possible that the person requesting the bail bond may need to take out an emergency or “payday” loan in order to raise at least a portion of the premium. The bond company’s agent will usually have experience in helping others in applying for such loans and this information will speed up the loan application.

The information for the accused is necessary because the bail bond posted represents a legal contract between the accused and the bail bond company. As in any contract, the more the parties know about each other there will be less of a chance for a misunderstanding about the terms of the contract. This detailed information will also make it easier to locate the accused in the event he or she decides to “skip out” and not appear in court.

Wrapping It All Up

Anyone who finds themselves under arrest has the right to post bail while awaiting trial. If they lack the assets required to personally post bail, they may ask that a bail bond company post a surety bond for them in exchange for a fee known as a premium. In this respect a bail bondsman helps the accused assert their rights within the state’s criminal justice system.

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