In general, the biggest difference between bail and bond is how each is paid: a bail is paid directly to the court, whereas a bond is paid to a bail bondsman, a third party who acts as something of an insurance provider. When people have been arrested on suspicion of committing a serious crime, judges in many legal systems will allow their temporary release before trial if they pay a certain, usually very large, sum of money. This sum is known generally as bail, and those who can afford it usually pay it directly. When they appear for trial, the sum in its entirety is usually returned. People who can’t afford to pay often solicit the services of a bail bondsman to get the money on loan. The bondsman usually posts the money on behalf of the accused, and this is known as bond money. Most of the time bonds are subject to interest rates that can be quite steep.
Understanding the Context
When a suspect is arrested, a judge frequently issues a bail amount, or a fee that the defendant can pay to the court for his or her temporary release from jail pending a court appearance. The price the judge sets for bail is predicated on the seriousness of crime, and can often be a lot of money — more than a year’s wages in some cases. If the defendant is able to pay bail, he or she is released from jail, often with certain stipulations on travel out of the region, and is required to return to court for a trial.
Bail can be a convenient way for courts to allow suspects to go free while still ensuring that they’ll be available for trial. Housing suspects in jail cells can be costly, especially in overloaded systems where trial can be weeks if not months away. The bail works as an incentive primarily because of its value. If the accused fails to appear as scheduled, an arrest warrant is normally issued and the entire bail amount is forfeited to the court.
How Bonds Work
Not everyone can afford bail, though. In these cases, there are usually two options: stay in jail, or recruit the services of a bail bondsman. Bondsmen are professional moneylenders who specialize in court judgments and bail mandates. A bond is basically an insurance policy that guarantees the full amount of the bail to the court should the individual flee or fails to appear for trial. Bail bondsmen usually require some sort of collateral in case the defendant does not return for the hearing. Collateral typically covers most any material property, such as a home, car, or anything else of value.
A bail bondsman usually charges a non-refundable fee of between 10% and 20% of the full bail amount. For example, if the judge sets bail at $20,000 US Dollars (USD), the individual must pay between $2,000 and $4,000 USD, depending on the bondsman's chosen percentage. In cases in which the defendant is considered a high flight risk, the bail bondsman may deny the bond altogether.
Main Purpose of Each
Both bail and bond are designed to secure a court appearance by the defendant. Once the trial is over, regardless of the verdict, the money that was paid for bail is returned in full. If bond was arranged, then the debt is considered settled, and the bondsman keeps the fee.
Variations in Process
The bail and bond process varies by jurisdiction. There are some that do not allow bail bondsmen to work for profit, which all but eliminates that option for those who are arrested in these locations. In these situations, if the defendant is unable to post bail, his or her only alternative is to remain in jail until the trial.
Consequences of Non-Appearance
The consequences for jumping bail, or not showing up to a court hearing, are very similar in both bail and bond situations. If bail was posted, the entire amount paid is forfeited to the court and the court orders a warrant for the arrest of the absconder. If bond was posted, the court gets its money from the bail bondsman and issues the arrest warrant. The bondsman then typically hires a bounty hunter to find the individual and deliver him to the court.