DEFINITION of 'Bail Bond'

A bail bond is a written promise signed by a defendant and surety to ensure that a criminal defendant will appear in court at the scheduled time and date, as ordered by the court. The bail amount is set by the court.


When someone is arrested for a crime, s/he is typically held in jail until the date s/he is meant to appear in court or until s/he is released on bail. Bail is set by a judge during a bail hearing, and is the amount of money that serves as insurance between the court and the person in jail. Since the bail can be set to unaffordable amounts, a defendant might seek the services of a surety bond company which is similar to a lender that only deals in payments required to get people out of jail. The bail bond company assigns a bail bond agent to post a bail bond for the defendant. The bail is paid by a surety (bail bond agent or bondsman), who usually collects a percentage of the amount of bail as a fee for services rendered. In order to pay the bail so that the defendant can be released while awaiting trial on criminal charges, the agent might require collateral in the form of valuable property, securities, or a statement of creditworthiness.

Bonds over $1,000 usually require the defendant to pay 10% of the bond to the surety. For example, if bail is set at $20,000, the accused must pay $2,000 to the bail bondsman. Additional fees may also be added. The agent will then secure the rest of the bail amount in the form of collateral. If the defendant does not have enough collateral, the bondsman might seek out relatives and friends to assist in covering the bail. The collateral is used to pay the court the remaining 90% of the bond if the defendant fails to appear in court on his or her scheduled court date. In effect, the cash bond is paid to the court and the collateral is collected by the bond agency, including any other related fees. But if the defendant shows up, the bail bond is dissolved upon conclusion of the court case and the collateral is returned to whoever posted it. The 10% fee is kept as earnings income by the surety.

The States of Illinois, Kentucky, Oregon, and Wisconsin prohibit the use of bail bond agents. These states still have bail bonds, but the 10% payment of the bond goes to the court and not a bondsman.

The goal of a bail bond is to prevent abuse of the appeal process, where the intent for appeal is for a reason other than that for which it is intended.

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