When a person is arrested, he or she may have the opportunity to pay bail. This is a payment that the arrested person may be able to make to the court in order to leave jail until trial. The payment is a way that the court can help ensure that the accused will appear at any future court dates. In some cases, the amount of bail may be more than the accused can pay by him or herself. In these cases, bail bonds may be useful since they allow people to pay some percentage of their bail — often 10% — with a bail bonding agency putting up the rest. Courts typically refund the original bail amount if the accused shows up for all of his or her court dates. Since that amount goes to the agency that posted bail for the accused, in cases that go well, the agency gets its money back and keeps the percentage put up by the accused as its profit.
Depending on the crime, bail may be determined by a preset schedule or in a bail hearing. In some cases, this hearing may be combined with an arraignment, when the judge hears the charges and asks the detainee to enter a plea. In order to create a financial incentive to return to court voluntarily, courts routinely ask for bail money commensurate with the seriousness of the charges. For many people, the amount of bail set is higher than they can pay easily. It's set a low enough amount to be worth putting it up to avoid more jail time but also it's also high enough to want it all back by going to future courts dates.
If the accused cannot come up with bail, he or she might ask a bail bonds person for help. In this case, the accused will put up a percentage of the bail and the bail bonds person will put up the rest. In this way, bail bonds are surety bonds used to guarantee the entire bail amount if the accused party fails to maintain the terms of his or her release.
Bail bonds can be obtained in most areas of the United States 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. When a person is released on bond, he usually has more opportunity to provide for his family or prepare for the upcoming court dates. Bail bonds also help reduce overcrowding and lower costs as there are fewer people that a jail must house and feed.
Bail bonds are generally issued by private bail bonding agencies and their fees are usually non-refundable. Most bonding agencies also require collateral; by paying the bail for the accused, the agency is taking the risk that he or she might not show up to court, forfeiting the bail. Collateral helps ensure that the bonding agency recovers its money. When the accused does appear in court and bail is refunded, the agency returns the collateral, but keeps any fees.
The concept of bail bonds for the release of jailed individuals is generally limited to the United States. Many other countries have other methods for creating financial or moral incentives for accused parties to appear in court. Most states in the US allow private bail bonds, and every state has its own laws concerning fees charged by bonding agencies.