What Is a Bail Bond and How Does It Work?

The decision of whether or not to grant bail to a criminal defendant is usually the very first decision a judge makes in a criminal case, and such a decision is not trivial. It ensures that a criminal defendant appears for further court appointments. As bail plays such an important role in criminal justice, the following will aim to provide a simplified guide to those interested in learning more about how bail works.

What is a Bail Bond?

A bail bond is one of the many available pretrial release mechanisms within the United States criminal justice system in 2022, which means that it is one of those tools courts use to ensure that a criminal defendant will appear for their court appointments.

There are two forms of pretrial release mechanisms: (1) a financial form and (2) a non-financial form. The latter form would usually include release on their own recognizance, supervised release, and an unsecured (no money) bond.

A bail bond belongs to the first form of pretrial release mechanism when the judge decides how much the defendant must pay to the court if the defendant fails to meet the terms of conditional release from custody.

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How Does Bail Bond Work? A Bail Bond Itself Has Two Types: 

Once the defendant signs the cash bond, he or she must secure the funds to ensure that he or she will appear in court when necessary; 

To guarantee the defendant’s appearance in court, a bond person (surety) lends the defendant money. The defendant signs these agreements also. A surety company can set a surety bond, which is a second type of bail bond.

Bail bond example

Jacob has been arrested. Jacob’s bail was set at $10,000 by the court. As Jacob cannot afford $10,000 in cash, he seeks the help of a Bail Bondsman in order to be released from jail. For Jacob to be released from jail, a Bail Bond of $1,000 must be posted by the bondsman.

What Is the Bail Bond Process?

The surety bail bond process happens when a criminal defendant in the custody of court seeks to secure his or her temporary release from detention by posting a bail bond. This process will typically involve distinct actions and activities several parties undertake, namely, the court, the defendant himself or herself, an indemnitor, and a bondsman (or sometimes known as a “bail bond agent”).

What Does a Bail Bondsman Or Bail Bond Agent Do?

When someone is charged with a crime and does not have the money to post the entire bail with the court, a bail bondsman provides a bail bond. Bail bondsmen guarantee the defendant will appear in court by providing money to the court for the defendant’s bail.

How do bail bondsman make money?

Bondsmen typically charge defendants a non-refundable fee of 10% of the bond amount, which represents the compensation they receive for paying the full bail amount. Bail bondsmen receive the full amount of the bail as well as a 10% fee if the defendant returns to court. 

How does bail bond make money?

The bail bondsman will keep the 10% charge if the defendant fails to appear in court, but lose the amount they paid towards the person’s bail unless they can locate and convince the person to appear.

What Happens If I Forfeit Bail?

Failure to appear at court on a court date results in a forfeited bond. Bail bonds have certain responsibilities for defendants who are released from jail on bail. The defendant forfeits the entire amount of his or her bail if he or she misses a court date or fails to fulfill agreed-upon obligations. The bail amount will not be refunded to a defendant who fails to appear in court.

A bondsman is given about a week to try to locate his or her client after a defendant misses a court date and the bond is forfeited. The bondsman loses the money he received for the original bond if he is unable to do this. He will also be issued an arrest warrant for the defendant if he is unable to do so.

You should contact the bondsman and the court as soon as possible if you find yourself in this situation. Your court date will, in most cases, be reset if you begin communicating with both your bondsman and the court as soon as possible.  

What Happens If I Show Up To All Of My Scheduled Court Appearances?

Clearly, this is the best-case scenario. Failure to appear can result in fines and warrants for your arrest. It’s best to ensure you can attend all court appearances and contact the court if you are unable to for whatever reason.

How do bonds work with bail: step-by-step

The usual steps involved in the operation of the surety bond process work as Jacobsons and Stevens (2013) describe in The Regulation and Control of Bail Recovery Agents: An Exploratory Study. The step-by-step description below will not only answer the question of “How do bonds work with bail?” but will also answer the important question of “How do bail bondsmen make money?” and “how does bond work for jail?” which is something the defendant (or their family members or relatives)must factored into their decision of whether or not to go through the “surety bail bond route” should he or she wish to secure his or her temporary release from court custody.

Step 1: The defendant files an application for bail with the court, which has custody over him or her.

Step 2: If the judge approves the application after conducting a bail hearing, the judge sets the bail amount the defendant must pay the court before the defendant can gain temporary release. The court bases the amount on a myriad of factors, usually on the severity of the crime, the defendant’s criminal history, or the defendant’s connection to the community.

Step 3: After the defendant knows the amount of bail, the defendant then posts bail through a person known as the “indemnitor. ”The “indemnitor” will usually be a family member or relative of the defendant, but technically it can be anyone who appears on the defendant’s behalf to seek his or release from court custody pending trial. The indemnitor may be the defendant himself or herself.

Step 4: The “indemnitor” will contact a “bondsman” (or the surety) and enter into a contract in which the bondsman will financially pledge to the court to pay the amount of bail set by the court should the defendant fail to meet the conditions of the bail as imposed by the court hearing.

Step 5: In exchange for the bondsman’s financial pledge in the immediate step above, which is a form of service that the bondsman renders in favor of the defendant and the indemnitor, either of the latter will need to pay a non-refundable fee (usually a certain percentage of the value of the bond, e.g. 10 % -15 %) to the bondsman.

This fee is non-refundable because even if the defendant successfully meets all conditions of the bail imposed by the judge, the bondsman keeps the fee, even if the bondsman doesn’t pay any amount to the court. This is, then, how a bail bondsman makes money from a bail bond transaction.

Step 6: The defendant himself or herself also enters into a separate contract with the bondsman, in which the defendant will promise that he or she will appear for all court appointments during a specific court date (or court dates) and other conditions set by the court in the grant of the bail application. These conditions may include travel restrictions, no-contact orders, mandatory check-in procedures, or even electronic monitoring.

Step 7: If the defendant fails to comply with the conditions imposed by the court, he becomes a fugitive and is, at the same time, in breach of his or her contract with the bondsman. In this case, the bondsman forfeits the full value of the bond to the court.

Step 8: Once the court orders the forfeiture, the bondsman will have to pay the full value of the bond to the court, if the defendant does not voluntarily surrender or the bondsman doesn’t return the defendant to the custody of the court within a certain time period.

Despite being paid to the bail bondsman under Step 5 above, the non-refundable fee is also paid to the court, since it forms part of the bond’s total value. Therefore, the bail bondsman makes no profit in this case. As a result, the bail bondsman has a vested interest in the defendant surrendering to the court. Bail bondsmen typically hire bail recovery agents (also known as bounty hunters) to locate and apprehend fugitives.

Step 9: The bondsman can then proceed to recover from either the indemnitor or the defendant the bond amount that the former paid to the court.

Are There Alternatives To a Bail Bond?

Being released on one’s own recognizance has proven to be the most effective alternative to bail. Alternately, there are also pretrial services, mediation, and risk assessment tools in some states.

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How does the bail bond system work?

According to the current law 2022, bail bonds enable defendants to get out of jail until their court date by posting bail. The defendant must remain in jail until their court date if they cannot afford bail. Bail can be paid in full in many jurisdictions and situations.

How does a federal bail bond work?

Unlike state charges, federal criminal cases do not have a bail system or bail bonds. A judge sets a bond amount when you get arrested for a state offense. Post bail or hire a bail bondsman, and you’re free to go. Federal cases do not have such a system.

Do Americans get their bail money back?

After the defendant makes all required court appearances, the court will return the full bail amount to you. The money will be forfeited if the person fails to appear in court.


Securing a defendant’s right to be released from detention temporarily through the bail system has been shown to provide a benefit to the defendant in terms of limiting the likelihood of his or her conviction or increasing his or her chances of having the charges against him or her reduced. 

The cost and legal complexities involved in securing bail by way of surety bonds make it neither cheap nor straightforward to secure such a right. Bail and bond are controversial political subjects.

Article by Mariia Synytska

Mariia Synytska was Content Lead at Lawrina. Mariia managed the content on the website, took interviews with lawyers and law experts, and looked for interesting topics for Lawrina's audience.

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