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California Bail Bonds – How does Bail Work?

Updated on July 26, 2017

How Bail Bonds Work in California

The Bail Bond system in America dates back to the early 17th century, where king Charles of England ordered the Habeas Corpus Act 1679. Bail bonds are in place to give defendants a fair chance in court, meaning you shall be free until proven guilty or otherwise. The importance of Bail Bonds in the criminal justice system is huge, and the impact that they have on our communities is equally important. There has been a lot of recent media coverage about bail reform across the United States, but the bottom line is that Bail Bonds will be around for a very long time.

What is a Bail Bond?

I have been in the Bail Bonds business since I was 19 years old, and one of the most common questions that I have seen over the years is what exactly is a Bail Bond? Many people cannot figure out how we make our money, or how we just give the courts thousands of dollars at a time. Well, the actual fact is that a Bail Bondsman is nothing more than an insurance underwriter, and the Bail Bond is actually an insurance policy. We are giving the courts a check for whatever the bail amount might be, and guaranteeing that our client is going to show before the judge. We are basically a glorified jailer, but of the clients choosing.

Now you might have seen television shows about famous bounty hunters, and this is also a part of the Bail Bond business. Generally the actual underwriter is not a bounty hunter, he will hire out the bounty hunter when the bond becomes forfeited. We don’t actually give out thousands of dollars unless the client goes on the run and we cannot put them back into custody, otherwise the court will just be holding onto a bond for the duration of the case.

How does a Bond Work?

The way that a bond works is pretty simple, in most states the client will pay a percentage of the entire bond. In California if a bond is let’s say $10,000, the bond percentage is %10 so the client will pay $1000. The good thing about the current bail market in California is that most companies do payment plans now, so instead of paying $1000, a client could just make a small down payment and pay the rest over a duration of a few months.

A lot of times on larger Bail Bonds the company will need to seek collateral to secure the bond. This can come in the form of a few different things depending on the company that you are dealing with, some companies will only accept vehicles and homes, while other companies will accept jewelry and ammunition to secure the bail bond. Obviously a lot of people are desperate to get out, and they will give up anything that they have in some cases to obtain the freedom to fight the case from the outside.

What is a forfeiture?

The Bail Forfeiture is when the Bondsman is on the line of losing the entire bail amount to the court, generally speaking if a client fails to appear in court the bondsman has 185 days to find the defendant and place them back into custody. This is where the bounty hunter comes into play, because it is his job to retrieve the bail bondsman’s money or “bounty” as it is called. If the bail bondsman does not get the fugitive back into custody within the 185 days this is known as a summary judgement, and this is when the bail bondsman will have to pay the entire bond amount that was put up.


Generally collateral is taken to secure a bail bond, in today’s bail market this is generally only on high risk bonds or out of state bail bonds where the defendant is unlikely to come back to court. The Bail Bondsman will generally put a lien on the indemnitors “co-signer” home, and or put a lien on their vehicle. The Bail Bondsman might also take physical possession of property such as a vehicle, or even a boat until the case is finished and they receive a letter of exoneration. This protects their interest, and courts interest in case the client decides to skip bail. It is very uncommon that a Bail Bondsman will accept items such as a TV or power tools as collateral, and even weapons are generally frowned upon as opposed to real property items such as a home or a vehicle.

Military Discount:

One of the benefits of using a bail bondsman in California is the Military discount. This is applied to the total premium cost of the bond and it is generally %8 instead of %10. So let’s say you have a $10,000 bail, the premium would be $800 instead of $1000. This is a great way to save veterans some money, and it helps to enhance the image of the business. This discount can also be applied to first responders, and in many cases even medical professionals can get this discount from a lot of well-known companies. Recently this discount has become abused by a few well known California bail bond companies, and they ended up being indicted by the California Department of Insurance two years ago.

Why use a Bail Bondsman?

The real question for many consumers is why should I use a Bail Bondsman? If the bail is manageable, the consumer can pay the entire amount directly to the court but here is the problem. If the defendant runs are you going to be the bounty hunter? Will you be willing to risk upwards of thousands of dollars? Probably not, so this is where the bondsman comes into play because we take most of the risk. We will pursue the defendant and put them back into custody, and we are regulated by the state insurance commission to only charge a certain premium amount. With that being said, utilizing a Bail Bondsman can seem like a daunting task, and many people are intimidated but nowadays it is a seamless experience.


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    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 

      20 months ago from Norfolk, England

      That was really interesting to read. I've never heard of Bail Bonds before, so learned something today.


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