FAQ – A Consumer Overview
Q. What is a Bail Bond? A. Most people are familiar with bail bonds. Someone arrested on a criminal charge may be held until trial, unless they furnish the required bail. The posting of a bail bond acquired by or on behalf of the incarcerated person is one means of meeting the required bail. When a bond is issued, the bonding company guarantees that the defendant will appear in court at a given time and place. The Government entity (state or federal) in whose court the defendant must appear, is protected by the bond. If the defendant fails to appear, the bond amount becomes payable and is forfeited as a penalty by the surety insurer issuing the bond. Bail bonds usually require collateral (cash, a deed, or other property) to protect the surety. Bail bonds are issued by licensed “Bail Agents” who specialize in their underwriting and issuance. Bail agents act as the appointed representatives of licensed surety insurance companies.
Q. How much can a Bail Agent Charge? A. The cost to the consumer is generally about 10% of the total amount of the bond, plus actual, necessary and reasonable expenses incurred in connection with the transaction. The court determines the amount of the bond. Each Bail Insurance Company (Surety) must file rates with the Department of Insurance. Bail agents representing a company must charge the same, filed rates. A “Rate Chart” is required to be posted in a visible location at every bail bond office.
Q. What does the Consumer agree to in a Bail Bond Contract? A. The consumer is agreeing to: Pay the premium for the bond at the established rates, Provide required collateral, Pay actual, necessary and reasonable expenses incurred by the bail agent in connection with the transaction. These may include: • Reimbursement for long distance phone calls., • Excess travel expenses (described as outside of the bail agent’s normal scope of business, or into an area where the agent does not advertise). Posting fees (for payment to an agent in another area to physically deliver a bond. An agent should not charge a posting fee for the normal delivery of a bond in the agent’s advertising area), • Bounty agent/skip tracer expenses (These are usually based upon the amount of the bond),• Payment of the bond amount for the defendant’s failure to appear,• Attorney fees and court costs. Keep the bail agent advised of address/employment changes of the defendant or other parties of the agreement, Aid the bail agent/skip tracers in locating the defendant (where someone other than the defendant has secured the bond). The consumer should read all agreements thoroughly, asking questions until all items and obligations are understood.
Q. What does the Bail Agent do for the consumer? A. Provides an avenue for the incarcerated person to be out of custody until his/her day in court, allowing the defendant to continue his/her day-to-day life until the criminal matter is resolved. The bail agent will provide the following: • Receipts and copies of all signed documents, • Information regarding the status of the bond and changes in assigned court dates, • The status of any costs due, as imposed by the court, • Assistance in locating the defendant should forfeiture occur, • Appearance before the court regarding the bail bond when such appearances are necessary (sometimes requiring the hiring of legal counsel) and • The timely return of collateral upon exoneration of the bond.
Q. How long is a Bail Bond good for, and can the amount be reduced? A. Length of the contract. The bail bond runs for the length of the case that is being bonded. However, the agreement may provide for the payment of premium at inception, and upon “renewal” on an annual basis. Once paid, premium for a bail bond is not refundable. Reduction of Responsibility: Although not usually the case, a court may reduce the amount of bail required. If a bail reduction occurs, the bail agreement should be amended to reflect the reduced exposure of the bail agent and surety insurer. A bail reduction does not result in a refund of premium paid, although it may result in a partial return of collateral. If a bail reduction occurs, it should result in a reduced renewal premium. Under any circumstances, where a bail reduction has occurred, the bail agent and insurer cannot recover more than the amount to which they are actually exposed, plus necessary related expenses.
Q. What if I have a problem or dispute with a Bail Agent, such as a failure to return collateral? A. Contact the California Department of Insurance using the information provided in the “Talk to Us” section. Source (California Department of Insurance).
What does it mean to indemnify a Bail Bond Contract (Indemnitor) A. The person or organization (Indemnitor/Guarantor) who holds another (the Indemnitee) harmless in a contract, • Indemnify: insure against loss: to provide somebody with protection, especially financial protection, against possible loss, damage, or liability, • Reimburse after loss: to pay compensation to somebody for loss, damage, or liability incurred, • Indemnitiee: The person or organization held harmless in a contract: in the case of a Bail Bond, this is the Surety (Insurance Company) and the Bail Bond Agency, • Guarantor: somebody who assumes debts: somebody who gives a guarantee, especially a formal promise to be responsible for somebody else’s debts or obligations.
Q. What is Bail Bond Forfeiture? A. If the Defendant fails to appear, the Judge will forfeit the bond and in most cases issue a bench warrant for their arrest. The statutory time limit in the state of California is 180 days before a Summary Judgment is entered.
Q. What is Summary Judgment? A. Summary judgment is issued by the court following bond forfeiture because the statutory time limit to return the defendant to custody has expired. The Surety is ordered to pay the full amount of the bond to the court.
Q. What is Exoneration? A. The term “exoneration” is used in criminal law to indicate a surety bail bond has been satisfied, completed, and exonerated. The judge orders the bond exonerated; the clerk of court time stamps the original bail bond power and indicates exonerated as the judicial order.
Q. Can a Bail Agent discount the Bail Premium? A. NO: The rate that you pay a bail agent is set by the Department of Insurance. Each Bail Insurance Company (Surety) must file rates with the Department of Insurance. Bail agents representing a company must charge the same, filed rates. A “Rate Chart” is required to be posted in a visible location at every bail bond office. There are companies that can legally charge 8%, but for the most part Bail is 10% of the bond amount plus $10 to $15 depending on the company you choose. A company that agrees to discount their fee may have their license pulled by the department of insurance. Some companies try and lead you into believing that you will receive a discount but in the end actually charge you the whole amount. Always ask to see a rate chart if you feel that you are being wrongly charged.
Q. Are some Bail Bond Agencies less expensive than others? A. NO: Here again Bail Agents are licensed by the state and all have a set rate they must charge. Some bondsmen are licensed to write at 8%, meaning that the cost to you the customer will be less but there are certain provisions for this rate.
Q. Do I get my money back after the case is over? A. Only when you pay the full face amount of the Bond: The Bail Bond Premium is fully earned upon the defendant’s release from custody. The Bail Bond provides an avenue for the incarcerated person to be out of custody until his/her day in court, allowing the defendant to continue his/her day-to-day life until the criminal matter is resolved.