Top 5 Questions About How Bail Bonds Work

Bail bonds companies are the last people you want to have to call, but when you are in need, you are ready to find out how bail bonds work. Perhaps you’ve been there, the late-night phone call with a family member who has ended up in jail and needs you to bail them out. If you haven’t, you wonder how in the world do you do just that? How do you go about getting your loved one out of jail? How do you choose the right bail bonds company?

You will probably be surprised to find that bail bonds is a regulated industry. In the state of California, the Department of Insurance determines how bail bonds work. While no one ever wants to be in the situation, it’s good to know what to ask in case you do need to call a bail bondsman. Here is a good starting point:

1.   How much do bail bonds companies charge?

The rate they charge is legally mandated state-to-state. The bail bond company will charge their customers 8-15% of their total bail amount depending on the state.  In California, this rate is 8% or 10% and nothing else. Be cautious of anyone offering a “bargain” rate, it could mean they are operating illegally and not a reputable company.

2.  How fast can you get someone released from jail?

When it comes to getting someone out of jail, the only thing a bondsman can control is speed of getting you through the paperwork and payment and taking the bond to the jail. No bondsman can make the jailer let someone out of jail any faster. Most experienced bondsmen should have a pretty accurate time frame of when the defendant should be released. Getting someone out of jail can be a very slow and unpredictable process and being patient during this time is important.  The jail facility will always practice safety of the inmates and public first.

3. What is the bail bond process?

A professional bail bond company should be able to explain how bail bonds work effortlessly.  Here is basically how the process works:

  • The bail bondsman will collect some basic and general information regarding the situation in order to assess the risk factor involved in the bond.  For example: what jail is the person being held at, what are they charged with, how long have they lived at their current residence, are they employed and if so, where?  
  • Customers will need to arrange payment and complete state-required bond documents to include a bail bond application, indemnity agreement and receipt. The bondsman needs to prove to the court that they can find the defendant if necessary.
  • The bond company will then post the bail at the jail and the defendant is released.

4.  Are you a licensed bail agent?

In California, bail bondsmen are licensed by the California Department of insurance and are the only ones legally allowed to negotiate and post bond.  It is highly advisable to only deal with bail bond companies who do have a current and valid license and is in good standing with their license.  Ask to see the bail agents identification and license before you give them any money and complete the transaction.  

5.  What are the responsibilities of the contract signer?

An “indemnitor” is someone who has bailed someone out of jail and accepts full responsibility that the defendant shows up to their scheduled court date.  If that person fails to appear, then the indemnitor is responsible for helping the bondsman locate them and if they cannot be located, the indemnitor is responsible for the full amount of bail.  Most often bail bond issues such as simply missing a court appearance can be taken care of with a phone call.

Just remember that how bail works may vary from state to state, however, understanding some of the basic questions will help you make the right choice when you are in a tough situation and may not be thinking clearly.

More California Bail Bonds Resources


Updated: 11/17/2010