When a person is charged with a criminal offense and is arrested, he/she is presented before a court judge who then decides whether to continue having the accused person in custody or whether to release that person temporarily till all court proceedings are done.
The main question facing the judge at this point is whether the accused is a risk to the community. The judge must decide whether to release the accused person or whether that person needs to stay in jail in order to protect the safety and interests of the community.
In such a situation, three things could happen. Either the judge could order the release of the accused person on his/her own recognizance, the judge could order the release of the accused person upon payment of bail, or the judge could insist that the accused remain in jail.
The third case may happen if the accused person has a past record of crimes or if the alleged crime is a non-bailable offense. If the judge feels that the accused person is a threat to the community, then the accused may be ordered to remain in police custody.
If the first situation happens, the judge simply releases the accused person in the belief that the defendant will show up to all court proceedings and fully comply with any conditions that are set for his/her release. The conditions could be something like showing up at a job, turning in personal firearms or giving up alcohol.
The second situation is where things get interesting. If the accused person is released against payment of bail, then the judge is essentially insuring the return of the defendant to future court proceedings by demanding a specific amount of money called the bail amount.
This bail amount can be a few thousand dollars or even as high as a few million dollars. It all depends on the background of the accused and the crime that has been alleged.
The main point is that the bail amount is quite substantial. This bail money is fully refundable and is returned to the accused person regardless of the final verdict of the criminal case.
Even if the accused person is found guilty, the bail money is returned to him/her. The money can be held by the court and not returned if any of the bail conditions are not complied with.
While ordering bail for an accused person, the judge sets up various conditions against which the release of the accused is secured.
Hence, there is a lot at stake for the accused person to not comply with the bail conditions or not show up at future court proceedings and risk losing all those dollars. Note that the bail can get canceled if the accused person gets arrested again while out on bail.
The bail amount can be paid by cash or check directly. However, not everybody can pay thousands (or millions) of dollars right out of pocket.
In such a case, the accused person can submit a property bond whereby he/she hands to the court lien over a physical property that he/she owns. The court holds on to the property bond till all court hearings are concluded. In the end, if the defendant complies with all the bail conditions, the property bond is handed back to the accused.
If the conditions are not complied with or if the accused does not show up at any court hearings, the court has the power to foreclose the property in order to recover the bail money.
But what if the defendant has no cash and no property to put up in order to secure his/her bail release? In such a case, that person can avail the services of a bail bond company.
If the accused person is unable to arrange for the required cash or if his/her friends or relatives are also not able to help, the accused person or his relatives can contact a bail bondsman or bail agent. This person represents a bail bond company.
The bail agent will submit a surety bond to the court and secure the release of the accused person from jail. In return for his/her services, the bail agent gets a fee which normally is an amount between 10 and 20 percent of the full bail amount.
This fee is non-refundable and is unlike paying the bail amount directly to the court.
This surety bond basically acts as an insurance that the court receives committing the accused person to show up to court whenever ordered to do so. If the accused does not show up, then the bail bondsman can apprehend that person and force him/her to show up at the court.
The bail bondsman would normally hire a professional enforcement agent in order to seek out and apprehend the accused person.
If that strategy does not work out, the bail agent has to make the full bail payment to the court, because by giving a surety bond, the agent has taken responsibility for making the bail payment in the event of a default by the accused person.
In almost all cases, the bail agent uses the collateral that was collected earlier from the accused person in order to make the bail payment.
The bail agent asks for collateral from either the accused or his/her relatives when the surety bond is created. Many a time, the bail company is backed with an insurance policy to cover any instances of the bail agent having to make the full bail payment to the court.
A bail agent is a licensed agent and all states have strict rules regarding the process of becoming a bail agent. They have to undergo extensive training and a thorough background check. The education needs to continue in order to renew the license. Every state has different rules. Bail companies also offer other services like hand delivery of legal documents to the accused person, especially if the accused person is not showing up in court. The skill needed in those services is the ability to track down the accused person.