Out on Bail... Free At Last, But Not So Fast: A Bail Bond Can Be Revoked
By Tonya Page-Rynerson, California Bail Bondsman
Bail is a Constitutional right – staying out on bail is not. The right to bail allows the defendant to continue with their normal life, work and family while preparing for the case. Without bail, “innocent until proven guilty” would mean nothing. With bail amounts in California regularly set at $20,000 and up, when someone gets arrested, they usually turn to a bail agent to get them out of jail. At a fee of 10% of the full bail amount, the price of freedom is affordable for most people. Innocent or guilty, get arrested, pay the bondsman and you’re free to go where you want, when you want, and do what you want – at least until your Court date.
Not so fast. There's no such thing as absolute freedom when someone is out on bail. Courts set requirements (called "terms of release") when a defendant is released on bail. The bail bond contract may impose additional requirements. If a defendant doesn’t follow the terms of his release, the bail agent can – and will – revoke the bail and return the person to jail.
The defendant loses a lot when that happens: his freedom, the bail bond fee and possibly the opportunity to be released on bail in the future.
When Can Bail Be Revoked
In California, a bail agent takes responsibility for the defendant: by law the bondsman becomes the defendant’s jailer. Because of this, bail bond companies are allowed to revoke a bond in certain circumstances. It can happen when the defendant either doesn't fulfill his Court-ordered responsibilities, becomes a serious “flight risk” (meaning there is a high probability they plan to evade the Court) or the defendant simply doesn't follow the agreement made with the bail agent in exchange for bail.
Although every state has different regulations, they all allow bail bond agent to revoke bonds and return defendants to jail. The Court itself can also revoke bail if the person is found to be violating the terms of release. Here are a few recent examples from the news:
Failure to follow the terms of the bail contract
- A university professor in Huntsville, Alabama had his bail revoked after the bail bond agent discovered that the Russian-born defendant had applied for a visa to travel to Greece.
- A bail bond company in Spokane, Washington required a defendant to wear a GPS monitoring bracelet as a condition of her bond. When she failed to replace the batteries and they couldn’t monitor her, the company revoked her bail and returned her to jail.
Violating the Court's terms of release
- This same Spokane defendant was bailed out again by her boyfriend, but was returned to jail on Court order after the police investigated a report that she had violated the terms of her release by leaving the state.
- In January, 2008, OJ Simpson had his bail revoked after allegedly trying to contact a witness in a case after he promised the Court that he would have no contact with witnesses or co-defendants while out on bail.
Risky personal conduct. These types of situations aren't nearly as cut-and-dried. It's easy to tell when someone has traveled out of state, contacted witnesses, or otherwise clearly violated Court-ordered terms or a clause in a bail bond contract. But, in cases where the defendant out on bail engages in risky or even illegal activities, the bail agent may decide to revoke bail in order to lessen his financial exposure.
In one of the few cases where our company has revoked bail, we had written a bail bond contract for a defendant who was already out on a bond for another case with another company. When he failed to appear in Court on that case and did not return our calls, we revoked the bail bond he had with us. Not only was he violating the law by failing to appear, but we had reasonable doubt that he would appear on our case.
When a bail bond agent writes a bond, he's stepping into the role of jailer and is responsible for the defendant. Reputable bail bond companies are very careful when writing bonds, because the potential financial exposure is so great. If a defendant skips out on a $50,000 bond, the agent has to either catch the person (which can be expensive) and return him to Court or pay the entire bond amount.
Situations Where Bail Can't Be Revoked
Most states have laws that specify when bail can and cannot be revoked. In California, there are two common circumstances where many people mistakenly assume that a bail agent can revoke bail:
- Money owed to bail bond company: A bondsman can't revoke bail and return a defendant to jail just because the defendant or indemnitor hasn't paid the total bail fee or is behind in payments. Now, the company is allowed to use legal means to collect the debt and report the transaction to credit bureaus, but they can't punish the defendant by revoking bail and returning him to jail.
- Indemnitor no longer wants to be responsible. Indemnitors sometimes want the bondsman to revoke bail because they don't trust the defendant to show up and don't want to be responsible for the entire bail amount. That's a bad situation, but the bail agent needs more evidence before revoking bail. Just a "feeling" or regret about signing the contract in the first place isn't enough.
For instance, we had someone call us who had guaranteed a bond with another company. She had bailed out her husband on a drug charge and discovered later that he was using drugs again. She wanted the bail company to pick him up and return him to jail, but they refused to do it; there just wasn't evidence that he was a flight risk nor could the bail company know for certain that he was using drugs.
Her best option was to call the police herself and report him. If he was arrested again while out on bail, there would have been a more legitimate reason to revoke the first bond. Or perhaps the Court would have refused to release him a second time.
Bail Revocation Can be Costly For The Defendant
When bail is revoked, the defendant or the indemnitor who guaranteed the bail bond has paid the bail bond fee and the defendant is back in jail. The bail bond money is lost. Remember that the bail fee is part of the bail bond contract. By the contract, the fee is fully earned when defendant is initially released from jail. It's paid whether the defendant is charged, convicted, has all charges dropped, or has bail revoked.
If the terms of the agreement are violated while out on bail and either the Court or bail agent revokes the bond, the bail company isn't obligated to refund the bail fee. If you want to be released on bond again, that requires a new bail contract and bail fee. That can be an expensive situation.
For instance, the defendant from Spokane mentioned previously, was released twice on bail set at $250,000. Two separate bail contracts require two separate bail fee payments of $25,000 each. That's a lot of money to come up with even once, much less twice.
That's assuming the Court will approve bond a second time. In many cases, Courts are reluctant to release a defendant on bond again, so the defendant can be in the uncomfortable situation of owing the bail fee while he sits in jail waiting for trial. In other cases, the Court will allow bail, but increase the amount.
It's important to fully understand both the terms of release set by the Court and the terms of the bail bond contract. Otherwise, the defendant could inadvertently break the rules and end up the last place he wants to be – back in a jail cell.
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- Pam in Santa Barbara