Most people have seen enough crime dramas to know what bail is. The reality is that life is a little less flashy, and unless you’ve directly dealt with the issue of having bail posted for yourself or having to post bail for someone you know, your perception of how these processes work is likely to be hazy. So let us help you out here.

What is bail?

In simple terms, bail refers to the amount of money a person must pay to get out of jail when they are on trial for an alleged criminal offense. Bail is used as collateral by the criminal justice system to ensure that people involved in a criminal case are motivated to attend their court proceedings and not disrupt the legal process. 

Once the trial is over, you are returned the bail amount in full, or it is returned to the company/person that bails your out. 

How is bail determined?

After a person is arrested and booked for their offense, there will be a bail hearing where the judge will determine the amount to be paid for bail. Depending on the case, the judge is entitled to release the defendant on their recognizance (without the need for bail) or deny bail altogether.

Sometimes bail is set at a high amount that is difficult for the defendant to procure. Here the defendant can use the services of a bail bondsman who covers the costs of posting bail and charges a fee for the service provided. 

The factors that a judge considers when determining bail include

  • the severity of the offense
  • the likelihood that the defendant can commit more crimes during this period
  • the likelihood of the defendant using the release as an opportunity to escape the justice system. 

In determining this, the judge will look at any prior criminal history of the defendant. The judge may look into whether the defendant has established roots within the community where the alleged offense took place, and also personal and family history. These factors determine whether the defendant is a significant flight risk or danger to other people around them.

What is a bond?

The words bail and bond are often used interchangeably when talking about releasing defendants from jail. While these words have a close relationship, they do not mean the same thing. Bail is the amount the judge sets a defendant must pay to be released from jail. Au contraire, a bond is a financial pledge, usually posted on the defendant’s behalf by a third party, to honor the bail amount if the defendant fails to show up for trial. 

There are different kinds of bonds. A cash bond is one in which the amount agreed as bail is posted to the court, which has the right to claim it should the defendant fail to show up for their trial. There are also property bonds in which the defendant uses property, either real estate or other tangible assets, as collateral to secure their release from jail. 

What are bail bonds?

Often, the bail amount is set far beyond the financial capabilities of the defendant. Other times, while it may be conceivable that the defendant can arrange the sum required for bail, this would be a lengthy process, meaning that the defendant would still have to spend a hefty amount of time in jail. Here the defendant can rely on the services of a bail bond company, which will charge a non-refundable fee in exchange for posting the defendant’s bail. 

The bail bond company will be liable for the full bond amount should the defendant fail to appear for trial. 

How do bail bonds work?

To obtain a bail bond, the defendant or their family must typically pay a fee to the bail bond agent, which is a percentage of the total bail amount. For example, if the bail is set at 5,000 dollars and the bail bond agent charges a 20 percent fee, the defendant or their family will need to pay the agent 1,000 dollars to obtain the bond. 

Once the fee has been paid, the agent will post bail on behalf of the defendant, allowing them to be released from jail. The agent will provide a surety bond, where the bail bondsman takes responsibility for ensuring that the defendant shows up for their trial. Should they fail to do so, the bail bondsman becomes responsible for fulfilling the total bail amount owed by the defendant. 

How does the bail bondsman ensure defendants show up for a trial?

Bail bond agents take a serious financial risk by pledging to honor the defendant’s bail amount should the latter fail to show up for their trial. For this reason, most agents take additional steps to ensure that the defendant does not try to flee. 

Often bail bond agents require some form of collateral, such as property assets, to ensure that the defendant does not abscond from their legal responsibilities. The bail bond agent can also employ monitoring strategies, such as frequent calls to check in with the defendant, sending a bondsman to the representative’s home on the day of the trial, and, if necessary, taking the defendant to court themselves. 

Should the defendant flee, they are criminally liable for evading justice and open themselves up to civil suits from the bail bond agent or company. Bail bond agents can also enlist the services of a bounty hunter to track down criminals on the run. Bounty hunters can arrest criminals and bring them back to prison, where they will likely be charged more expensive bail or denied the right altogether. 


Despite efforts to make the criminal justice system more accessible and easy to understand, it still retains an element of mystery for most people not directly involved in the legal system. The issue of bail is no different, and for people who find themselves or their loved ones suspected of an alleged offense, understanding how to raise the necessary amount to pay bail and who to approach can be daunting. These guidelines should assist you in this process.