Frequently Asked Questions
1) What is a bail bond? A bail bond is a three party surety contract ordered by the court system to ensure the appearance in court of an accused party. The three parties are 1- The defendant or accused person, 2- The bail bondsman, 3- A third party co-signer on the bond. In exchange for a fee the bail bondsman posts the full amount of the bail bond to the county or state and takes financial responsibility for the loss of these funds should the defendant fail to appear in court. The bondsman is acting as the surety or guarantor of the funds should the accused fail to appear at their court date the bondsman will forfeit the full amount of the bail.
2) What happens when the bail bond is posted? Once the bail bondsman accepts the bail bond contract the next step is to go in front of the Magistrate at the jail and post the bond. The Magistrate will then order the release of the defendant with the expectation that the defendant will return for all court appearances until the case is finalized. It is important to understand that a bail bond is still active until the defendant has appeared at ALL court dates until either acquitted, sentenced, or the charges are dropped.
3) What happens if the bail bond is NOT posted? If the defendant cannot make bond they will stay incarcerated in the detention center until the case is finalized and any sentence has been served. It is not uncommon for an individual charged with a minor offense who does not post bond to actually end up serving MORE time incarcerated waiting for their trial to be completed than they would have been sentenced to if found guilty of the charge. This is the major function of the concept of bail.
4) What is my responsibility as a cosigner on a bail bond? As a cosigner you are taking on the same financial responsibility that the bail bondsman does. If the defendant fails to appear in court the bail bondsman is going to contact you to help locate the defendant in order to deliver him back to the court system. Should you be unable to help the bondsman locate the individual the bail bondsman will proceed to recover the full amount of the bail from you. It is very important to only cosign a bail bond for someone who you KNOW will make their court appearances.
5) What are my RIGHTS as a co-signer on a bond? As a co-signer you have the right to revoke the bond of anyone you have taken responsibility for. This is executed by providing the bail bondsman a written request and explanation of why you are making the revocation. At that point the bail bondsman can (at his discretion) obtain an arrest warrant and take the individual back into custody. At that time your financial liability is terminated. Note that the defendant MUST be taken back into custody for liability to be exhausted. There is generally a charge for this service depending on the circumstances.
6) Either myself, or someone I cosigned a bail bond for has missed their court date. What do I do? Don't panic, contact your bail bondsman immediately. Each situation is unique and the bail bondsman can advise you as to your best course of action.
7) What is a warrant of extradition? A warrant of extradition is a special bond that is posted when an individual has a outstanding arrest warrant from a different court jurisdiction. These types of bonds are simply intended to secure the appearance of the defendant back in the court system requiring the bond. By posting this bond the court will release you and allow you to go to the jurisdiction of the court issuing the warrant and answer to the charge yourself without being extradited in the custody of the sheriff's department. If the bond is not posted the inmate will be extradited though the penal system. The penal system will take many times longer to execute the order of the court not to mention the fact that the accused will be incarcerated in the jail system during the entire process. This process can take many weeks depending on where the charge is originating from.
8) Can I put a condition on a bond that I co-sign? Yes, any condition that the bail bondsman deems reasonable can be put on a bond to allow a co-signer a larger degree of control over the behavior of a defendant. If the defendant fails to obey this condition the bond can be revoked. Once again their is generally a charge for any re-arrest depending on the circumstances.
9) What is a PR Bond? A PR bond, or Personal Recognizence bond is similar to being released into the custody of a bail bondsman however, the bail bondsman is the accused. Essentially YOU are your own surety. If you fail to appear in court you will be responsible to pay the court system the full amount of the bail in addition to any fines and court costs. With this type of bond you do not need the services of a bail bondsman.
10) What is an immigration bond? An immigration bond is an appearance bond that is specific to someone who's resident status is questionable. Essentially ICE or immigration and Customs enforcement has set a hearing date for this individual to determine wether they will be deported or allowed to stay in the United States
The Arrest process
If you are visiting this site because a friend or loved one has been arrested you likely have questions about exactly is happening to them. There are a number of legal processes that are taking place likely as you are reading this if they have been arrested in the last few hours. All the steps that an individual goes through when they are detained by a police officer have to do with due process of law which are part of our constitutional rights. This is a brief description of most of the steps that someone will go though.
1) The first thing that happens when a police officer has determined that their is enough evidence to indicate that a crime has been committed is to decide what that crime is. Once that determination has been made the officer simply follows the guidelines set by the state that instruct him or her to either issue a summons (a ticket) or to physically arrest the individual and incarcerate them in the local jail. (If you have come to this site the individual in question has almost certainly already been arrested and charged with the crime.)
2) At this point the officer will transport the accused to the jail for whatever jurisdiction the officer serves. For example in Stafford County that would be the Rappahannock Regional Jail which services Fredericksburg, Stafford, and Spotsylvania Virginia. Fairfax County, Arlington County, Alexandria, Manassas or Prince William County and Loudon County all maintain their own jails. (see our links page to determine what jail your loved one has been transported to)
Once the officer gets to the jail they will begin the booking process. There are times when the individual may not be booked immediately, if they are extremely busy they may be placed into a holding cell until the booking officer is ready to process them. The booking process entails getting the individuals personal information and usually taking a booking photograph and fingerprints.
3) The next step is to go in front of the Magistrate who will ask some questions about the nature of the crime and make a determination if they will either:
1) PR therm (released on their personal recognizance, or in other words set free based on their promise to return for their court dates)
2) Hold with no bond (some charges are serious enough, or the individual has enough of a record where the Magistrate will not set a bond and they will be held. An attorney can file a motion with the court to have what is called a "bond hearing" where they can appeal to a judge to set a bond in these cases. Note: An agent from Lookout Bail bonds will be happy to attend any bond hearing with you.
3)Set a cash or corporate surety bond. This is where the bail bondsman comes into the picture. If a bond is set by the Magistrate the accused can bond out of jail immediately. A bondsman simply needs to go to the jail and post the bond with the Magistrate and the accused will be released from custody pending their court date.
4) After the accused has been in front of the Magistrate they will be taken to a holding cell where they will remain until they are either bonded out, or have been there long enough that the jail staff assumes they are not going to be bonded and will move them into the main population of the jail.
It is important to understand that the holding area of jails is a very uncomfortable place to be. They are offered very minimal food (often just a bologna sandwich and milk) and are stuck sitting in what amounts to a room full of benches for hour upon hour.
Release or Incarceration. Either the accused bonds out of jail or they will remain in the custody of the sheriff's department until their case has been tried. Often this can take months and it is not unusual for an individual to actually serve more time in jail waiting for their case to be tried than they would be sentenced to after being found guilty. This is the major reason for the 8th Amendment to the constitution which is the right to bail.
History of Bail
A Brief History of Bail
Bail in the United States grew from statues and policies from England. During colonial times Americans relied on the structure of bail that was developed in England hundreds of years ago. When America declared independence in 1776 the colonists no longer relied on English law but created their own that were very similar to the English tradition. The concept of bail in the United States is closely based on England's system.
In England concepts to insure that an accused would appear for their trial began as early as the criminal justice system itself. However, until the mid 13th century the conditions that a defendant was released on prior to trial was dictated by the local Sheriff. The Sheriff could use any number of factors to determine if they would be willing to release a defendant on bail. This broad authority obviously was not always fairly administered. Some local Sheriff's would exploit the bail system to benefit themselves. Due to this abuse of the concept of bail the English lawmakers issued the Stature of Westminster.
The Statute of Westminster
Issued in 1275 this statue eliminated the ability of the local Sheriffs to use their own discretion in choosing which crimes could be bailable. Under the new statue the offenses and wether they were eligible for bail were specifically listed. The sheriff did retain some authority in deciding the amount of the bail and to weigh all factors relating to that amount. Some offenses were explicitly excluded from bail and only a justice in the realm were able to set bail in these cases.
Applying the statue of these judges was the major issue centuries later when the next major change to bail law took place. In the seventeenth century King Charles I did not receive any operating funds from the Parliament and as a solution forced many noblemen to issue him loans to run the country. Any who refused were imprisoned without bail. A number of incarcerated knights filed a habeas corpus petition stating that they could not be held indefinitely without bail or a trial.
The Petition Right of 1628
This petition issued by Parliament responded to the kings action stated that the king had violated the Magna Carta by imprisoning individuals without due process of law. This act guaranteed that defendant could not be held before trial on the basis of an unspecific accusation. However, this did not provide for an absolute right to bail. The listed charges in the Statute of Westminster still listed charges as bailable or non-bailable therefore an individual charged with a non-bailable offense could not contend that he had the legal right to bail. Although these acts improved the availability of bail they did not limit the amount of the bail and they could be further detained by the setting of excessive bail.
The English Bill of Rights
This document improved the bail system by declaring that excessive bail ought not be required in bailable offenses and is the precursor to our 8th amendment. However, the English Bill of Rights never specifically contained the absolute right to bail.
Colonial America bail laws were patterned closely after the English laws already established. Some colonies initiated their own laws similar to English, others simply guaranteed the same protections enjoyed by British citizens. When independence was declared in 1776 the colonies could no longer pattern their policies after the British. At this time the colonies issued specific bail laws. Most wording was similar to the English however it was more specific such as stating that bail should not be set so high as to be unobtainable for bailable offenses.
The American Bill of Rights
James Madison drafted the Bill of Rights in 1789 and included the 8th amendment which states that "Excessive bail shall not be required..." The bail clause in the bill was still similar to the English wording stating that only certain offenses should be considered bailable. The first congress adopted the Amendment to prevent judges from setting excessive bail in cases prescribed as bailable by Congress. They then enacted a bill defining which offenses would be bailable.
The Bail Reform act of 1966
It was not until 1966 that the first substantive change in bail law since 1789 took place. The Bail Reform Act provides that a non-capital defendant "shall...be ordered released pending trail on this personal recognizance" unless the judicial officer determines that this will not adequately assure appearance at trial. In this case the judge must enact the least restrictive measures to guarantee their appearance in court. This can include restrictions on travel or the execution of an appearance bond (which will be returned at appearance in court) or the execution of a bail bond with sufficient solvent sureties. Defendants charged with a capital offense or who have already been convicted and are awaiting sentencing or an appeal are subject to a different standard. In these cases they are to be released unless the court has enough reason to believe that no conditions will reasonably assure that the person will not flee or pose danger to any other person in the community.
This act therefore set a presumption for releasing a suspect with as little burden as necessary to the individual but will still insure their appearance in court. Appearing in court is the sole standard for weighing a bail decision. In a noncapital case the act does not permit a judge to consider a suspects danger to the community. Only in capital cases or after conviction can a judge weigh threats to community safety.