How do bail bonds work?

When someone is arrested, they are often required to pay something called bail to ensure that they will show up for all of their court appearances (and not simply disappear to another jurisdiction and escape potential punishment).

The bail amount is usually set by the magistrate shortly after the defendant is arrested and processed into jail. This amount does not weigh guilt or innocence; instead the magistrate attempts to set a price that will guarantee their presence in court. The amount can vary a lot, but they consider things like criminal history and previous court appearances (or failure to appear), the severity of the charges, and the amount the person can reasonably pay. Sometimes it’s more or less than expected. It’s not an exact science by any means.

Once the bail amount is set by the magistrate, the defendant is eligible to be released from jail when one of two things happen:

  1. Bail is paid in full to the magistrate in cash or through a property bond
  2. A bond guaranteeing that bail amount is posted by a bail bondsman

Until one of those things happen, the defendant is stuck in jail – often for months.The court systems can move very slowly!

Paying bail to the magistrate does not require a bondsman, but it does require cash to be tied up, potentially for a long time. The court will hold that bail amount on deposit until the case is fully disposed of (whether guilty, not guilty, or dismissed). As long as the defendant goes to court each and every time, that money will be refunded. If they miss a court date, that money is forfeited.

Because of the risks and having to tie up cash for months or even years, most people opt to use a bondsman like Cape Fear Bail Bonds instead.

A bondsman is equipped with special papers called “powers” that are issued by an insurance company. Each of these “powers” is equal to cash for the purpose of paying the magistrate the “security deposit” for court attendance. When a bondsman posts the bond, what they’re doing is giving the magistrate one of their “powers” instead of cash. That power is held on deposit until the court case is disposed of. When the case ends, that “power” amount returns to the bondsman so that they can get other people out of jail with that money.

You’ll pay a fee to the bondsman for this service. Fees vary from case to case, but in North Carolina the total fees can never exceed 15% of the bail amount. Collateral is required. For most bonds, we only require the signature of the defendant and one or more co-signers as collateral – similar to getting a signature loan at a bank, but without a formal credit check and hassle.

We prefer payment in cash, but can also accept credit cards and certain types of wire transfers as payment. [More about payments]

EXAMPLE – John was arrested for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. The magistrate sets bail at $10,000. His wife, Mary, needs to either pay $10,000 cash or property deed to the magistrate for months or years at high risk of loss, OR Mary needs to hire a bail bondsman. The bondsman will charge up to $1500 total for their service (though the fee often will be less, it cannot be more than 15%). This fee is non-refundable under ordinary circumstances. Often Mary will pay a percentage down and make payments to the bondsman. We might charge $400 down and $200/month so that John can get out of jail and back to work right away – making this a truly affordable option. [What if I can’t make a payment?]

Every bond requires a cosigner – someone who will sign a guarantee that the defendant will come to court. Larger bonds require multiple co-signers. [What if the cosigners can’t come to the jail for some reason?]

Ultimately the cosigner is responsible to reimburse the bondsman for the amount of the bond if the defendant does not come to court and cannot be found. If the defendant is on a payment plan, they also guarantee that payments will be made. [What is the process if the defendant doesn’t come to court?]

While out on bond, the defendant is technically in the bondsman’s custody. Of course they’re able to go home and back to work and start living their lives again right away. That said, there are some rules the defendant is expected to follow, such as:

  • always updating the bondsman immediately of an address change
  • making payments on time
  • checking in via call or text if required
  • not leaving the state without the bondsman’s permission
  • not violating any orders of the court
  • coming to court on time, every time

Failure to comply can lead to the bondsman arresting the defendant and taking them back to jail. Here at Cape Fear Bail Bonds, we try hard to help our clients stay out of jail. Some bondsmen “work the system” by re-arresting and re-bonding people several times, without refunding their money. We don’t play those games. [How do I know if a bondsman is doing things that are illegal or unethical?]

Give us a call today – we’re here to serve you and your loved ones in time of need.