Common Questions & Answers About Posting Bail

Since you can't use Monopoly's "Get Out of Jail Free" card in real life, chances are good you'll need to post bail if you end up behind bars. If you've never had to post bail before, you might not really understand how the bail system works in this country. Read on for answers to a few of the most common questions about posting bail.

What does the term "posting bail" really mean?

After you're arrested, the court may require that you "post bail" before you can be released from jail. "Bail" refers to the money you must pay to ensure that you'll actually show up for court on the appointed court date. If you fail to appear in court on the scheduled day, the court will keep your bail and a warrant for your arrest will be issued.

There are several types of bail that are commonly accepted, including:

  • Cash or check for the entire bail amount
  • Property valued at the full amount of the bail
  • Bond (guaranteed payment of the full bail amount)

Who determines how much bail must be paid?

Your bail is set by a judge. However, since you may have to wait several days before you're scheduled to see a judge, most jails already have a list of standard amounts of bail owed for certain types of common crimes. This way, if you pay the amount of bail on the list, you can get out of jail much faster than you would if you wait to see a judge.

What happens if you can't afford to pay the bail?

When you can't afford the bail, you can request a lower amount from the judge. If you do need to request a lower bail, you may have to attend a hearing specifically for this purpose. Either that or you can wait to request a lower bail amount at your arraignment.

What is a bail bond?

You can pay your bail in one of two ways: either pay the full amount or buy a bail bond. If you buy a bail bond, you are buying a written promise from a licensed bail agent (or bail bondsman) that basically states you will appear at your scheduled court hearing. Otherwise, the bail agent will be responsible for paying your entire bail amount.

When you buy a bail bond, you typically must pay a nonrefundable fee of 10 to 20 percent of the full bail amount to the bail agent. Since the bail agent is responsible for paying your full bail amount if you fail to appear at your court hearing, you'll need to secure this bond with collateral. Keep in mind that most bail bond agents don't accept personal checks or credit cards, so be prepared to pay for the bond with cash or a money order.

Is it possible to get out of jail without posting bail?

At your first court hearing with the judge, you may request that you're released from jail on your own recognizance. This means you will sign a promise to appear in court on the appointed day. If the judge denies your request, you can ask for a lower bail amount, if needed.

The judge is most likely to approve your request if you show signs of having a low flight risk. Defendants with a low flight risk usually have certain characteristics that tie them to the community, like:

  • Steady employment
  • Property
  • Family living nearby
  • History of residing in the community

No one ever wants to be in the position of needing to post bail, but if it ever happens to you, at least you'll now understand the basics of posting bail and buying a bail bond. For more information, consider contacting anattorney.