Is There a Difference Between Bail and Bond?

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  • June 3, 2015

Is There a Difference Between Bail and Bond?

freedom writing seen through a jail window with bend bars

If you’re sitting in jail, you probably don’t care whether it’s called bail or bond or strawberry pie, as long as you get out of jail.  But, when you’re trying to explain to your mom or your roommate what needs to be done to get you out of jail, it may help to know the difference between bail and bond.

handcuffs and one hundred dollars on the wooden table

Bail is the amount of money that must be paid to the court or jail to secure the release of an inmate (defendant) from jail.  If the defendant fails to appear in court at a specified time, she forfeits that amount, and a bench warrant is issued for her arrest.  Bail can be paid in a number of ways.  For example, the defendant, or someone on her behalf, could pay the bail amount in cash or a certified check.  This is called a cash bond.  Some courts accept credit cards for cash payments.

For example, pretend JOHN DOE is arrested and taken to jail.  Pretend that, at the initial appearance, the magistrate judge sets the amount of bail at $10,000.00.  The judge is saying to JOHN DOE, “if you pay the court or jail $10,000.00 in cash, I will release you from jail, and you will be required to appear in court when required, and if you don’t appear in court, you forfeit your $10,000.00, and I will issue a warrant for your arrest.  But, if you show up for all court appearances as required, I will return your $10,000.00 to you after your case has concluded.”  As long as JOHN DOE appears in court until the conclusion of his case, it doesn’t matter whether he wins or loses his case.  He still gets his bail money back.

For instructions on how to pay (or post) a cash bond, call the Sheriff’s office or jail where the defendant is housed.

There are other ways to pay bail.  The defendant, or someone on the defendant’s behalf, could pledge property that has at least as much value as the bail amount.  This is called a property bond.  If the defendant fails to appear in court as required, the court may foreclose on the property to recover the forfeited bail amount.

Male hand presents a mortgage document

For instructions on how to post a property bond, call the Sheriff’s office or jail where the defendant is housed.

What if JOHN DOE doesn’t have $10,000.00 cash?  In that case, JOHN DOE could use the services of a bail-bondsman, someone with proven good credit, to stand good for the entire bail amount.  This is known as a bail-bond, or surety bond.  A bail-bond is a written promise signed by the defendant and a surety to ensure that the defendant will appear in court as required.  In this arrangement, the surety is the bail-bondsman.  The bail-bondsman agrees to pay (or post) the total bail amount so the defendant can be released.

directorys risk and securityThink of bail-bond companies like insurance companies.  The money you pay your insurance company is called a premium.  In exchange, the insurance company agrees to indemnify you up to the amount of the policy limits.  For example, pretend that you want $100,000.00 in insurance coverage.  You pay your insurance company a portion of that amount, say a $100.00 monthly premium, in exchange for your insurance company’s agreement to indemnify you up to $100,000.00 in the event of a covered loss.  It’s an affordable way to protect yourself against covered losses.  The insurance company gets to keep your premium payments whether or not you suffer a covered loss.

Bail-bond companies work essentially the same way.  You, or someone on your behalf, pays the bail-bondsman a portion of the bail amount (a premium), usually 10%, plus an administrative fee.  The bail-bondsman gets to keep the 10% payment, even if you show up to all court proceedings as required, just like your insurance company gets to keep your premium.

Bail-bond companies usually require some type of collateral, which may be real or personal property, like a home, car, boat, or anything that has value.  If the defendant fails to appear in court, the bail-bondsman can dispose of the collateral to recover at least some of his money.

 In rare cases, the court will release the defendant pending trial on her own recognizance.  This means that the defendant is not required to pay (or post) any financial security to ensure that she will appear in court as required.

In Georgia:

Some offenses, like treason, murder, rape, aggravated sodomy, armed robbery, aggravated stalking, kidnapping, and aggravated sexual battery, are bailable only before a judge of the superior court.  O.C.G.A. Section 17-6-1(a)

If police arrest a person whose blood alcohol concentration exceeds the legal limit, she may be detained up to six hours after booking and prior to being released on bail or on recognizance.  O.C.G.A. Section 17-6-1(b)(2)(A)

It is a crime for any professional bondsmen, their agents, or employees to advise defendants who are principals in bonds signed by them or give any directions in the defense or disposition of the cases in which they sign bonds.  O.C.G.A. Section 17-6-53