Being arrested for the first time can be a jarring and frightening experience. Even if you've watched enough television dramas or true-crime shows to know your Miranda rights by heart, you're likely panicked at the thought of even temporarily losing your liberty. In most cases, you'll be brought before a judge within a day or two and given an opportunity to plead guilty or not guilty -- before this point, the judge will set a bail amount, which may give you the opportunity to leave incarceration pending trial. However, if your initial bail is set at a shockingly high amount, you may want to take steps to seek a lower bail before paying a bondsman out of pocket. Read on to learn more about the bail process and some of the ways you may be able to reduce the amount you'll be required to pay for your freedom.
Shouldn't you seek a bondsman as soon as your bail has been set?
In many cases, particularly those involving minor misdemeanors, judges may release defendants on their own recognizance or with a small cash bond. This eliminates the need to hire a bail bondsman, as those released on their own recognizance are not required to pay anything, while those released on a cash bond can usually come up with the full amount without taking on debt.
However, allegations of higher-level crimes like felonies can result in the imposition of a much higher bail amount. If you don't have the money to pay the entire bail yourself, you'll need to enlist the services of a bail bondsman. In exchange for your payment of a non-refundable fee, this bondsman will ensure your presence in court. If you fail to appear for a hearing or trial, the bondsman will forfeit the money he or she put up as your bail, so bondsmen have a very vested interest in ensuring all their customers attend scheduled court dates.
Many states have recently enacted laws designed to crack down on bail bondsmen who are willing to waive certain fees or charges in order to remain more competitive with other businesses in the area. While this is designed to protect consumers by ensuring the fees charged are uniform across the board, it can often result in you owing a hefty debt after putting up collateral to secure the mandatory 10 percent fee charged by most bail bond companies. For example, if you're held on $500,000 bond, you'll need to provide the bail bondsman with 10 percent of this amount, or $50,000, in order to be released -- and this is money you'll never get back.
What can you do to reduce the amount you're required to pay?
In some cases, it can be worthwhile to spend a few extra days in jail while you petition the court to lower your bail amount. This can usually be accomplished through a short paragraph explaining why you feel you deserve a lower bail amount or the hardship that may result from keeping this higher amount in place. If you don't have a criminal history and have enough ties in the area that it's unlikely you'll flee before trial, the court has the discretion to reduce your bail to the minimum level prescribed by law. (Certain classes of crimes carry minimum bail schedules, so a judge who dips below the minimum amount could have this decision called into question by the appellate court.)
You'll also want to shop around once you're sure your bail amount is final. Although your bail agent may not be able to do much about the amount of the fee charged, collection methods can vary widely by agent -- if you're sure you'll be able to repay the funds over time, but are worried about dealing with a less-than-understanding collection firm if you become delinquent, you may want to look for an agent who offers more flexible arrangements.
For more information, talk with a bail bond company, such as All Star Bail Bonds, directly.