Defendants who fail to appear in court after posting bail face arrest, a wage garnishment, and a lien on property or other assets used as collateral. A judge commonly issues a failure to appear warrant that is entered into law enforcement databases. If the absconder is stopped by police, he or she is typically arrested and returned to the jurisdiction where charges were originally filed. Cosigners who put up collateral with a bail bonding company risk losing assets if they signed a contract promising the defendant would appear in court.
Bail bonds represent an agreement to appear in court on a scheduled date. Judges determine whether to release a defendant from custody on an unsecured or secured bond. A secured bond means the defendant posts an upfront cash deposit, usually 10 percent of the total bail amount. If the defendant makes all court appearances, the bail is usually exonerated and returned, minus a court fee. In cases where a defendant does not return to court, the deposit is forfeited and the total amount becomes due.
Unsecured appearance bail bonds are commonly referred to as releasing a suspect on his or her own recognizance. The judge sets the bail amount but does not require any cash or collateral as a condition of bail. Unsecured bail bonds typically apply to minor offenses and defendants not considered as flight risks.
Bail bond companies, also called surety companies, work with courts to guarantee payment of the full bail amount if a defendant skips town. The defendant or cosigner typically pays the company a nonrefundable percentage of the bond for its services. Bond companies usually require some kind of collateral, such as a home or vehicle, for substantial bail amounts as an incentive for the defendant to appear for trial.
Exoneration of bail bonds typically occurs when a defendant is sentenced or found innocent of the charge. Bail bonds can also be exonerated if charges are dismissed or a deferred program is granted that results in no charges on the defendant’s record. All court dates must be met and all court fees paid before judges usually exonerate a bond.
When releasing a defendant without bail or on an unsecured bond, judges typically consider a number of factors. They evaluate the type of crime and whether violence occurred. Judges also look at the defendant’s ties to the community, his or her work history, and the likelihood that the defendant will show up in court. The safety of the community or specific victims often factors into decisions on the types of bail bonds allowed.