When a person is arrested for a crime, a judge typically sets bail, a sum of money that must be paid to the court in exchange for the person to be freed pending trial. The judge hopes that by charging bail, the defendant will show up for all court appearances in order to eventually recover the bail money.
If the judge sets a high bail that the defendant cannot afford, the person can seek help from a bail agent, or bail bondsman. The bail agent is backed by a surety company, a type of insurance company. The surety company agrees to pay the full amount of the bail to the court if the defendant misses any court appearances, or “skips bail.”
In exchange for promising to pay the cost of full bail if the defendant does not show up, the bail agent charges the defendant a non-refundable premium, which is typically 10 percent for state charges and 15 percent for federal charges. The premium may be higher in some areas, and some bail bondsmen charge additional fees. Bail agents also generally collect some type of collateral, such as the title to a house, car, or boat; jewelry; or electronics.
Defendants often seek the help of a friend or family member to find a bail agent and get out of jail. The friend or family member often pays the bail agent’s premium and provides collateral. By involving a friend or family member in the process, the defendant is usually less inclined to skip bail because he or she feels personally accountable to the person who is helping.
If the defendant skips a court appearance, the bail agent must pay the promised amount to the court. The agent can then seek payment from the defendant. The bail bondsman may sue the defendant or claim assets that belong to the defendant or anyone else who signed a contract with the bail bond company. The bail bond agent can also hire a bounty hunter to find the person who skipped bail. The bounty hunter receives a percentage of the money recovered.