Author’s note from Attorney Howard Iken: Bail bonds allow individuals who are arrested to secure their release from jail until their trial. If the accused cannot afford to pay the full bail amount set by the court, they can hire a bail bondsman who charges a non-refundable fee, usually 10 percent of the bond. If the accused fails to appear in court, the bondsman is responsible for the full bond amount. The bail system originated in the late 19th century, and while reforms have been implemented to address issues of excessive bail, a significant number of individuals remain in jail because they cannot afford bail. In Florida, the bail bondsman has the authority to track down and arrest those who skip bail. The bail bond process involves completing paperwork, providing identification, and potentially providing collateral. The bondsman and the Indemnitor (the person securing the bond) are responsible for ensuring the accused’s appearance in court until the case is resolved. Once the case is concluded, any collateral provided is returned, minus potential fees.
What are Bail Bonds?
The business model for the bail bond industry is fairly straightforward. If you get arrested and find yourself behind bars, you will then appear before a judge who will determine whether or not you will be allowed to get out of jail until your trial. Usually, only those charged with the most heinous crimes will be denied bail altogether. The judge will decide what level of bail it will take to ensure you show up for your trial and don’t attempt to disappear. Let’s assume your crime is relatively minor, and your bail is set at $20,000. If you happen to have $20,000, you will pay the entire amount to the court, then when you show up for a trial, the $20,000 will be returned to you in full.
If you don’t appear for your trial, you will lose the entire amount. However, since most people don’t have that kind of cash, they hire a bail bondsman. The bail bondsman receives a non-refundable, percentage of your bond—usually 10 percent. In this case, you would pay the bail bondsman $2,000. If you fail to show up for a trial, the bondsman would owe the court $20,000. Of course, you would probably also end up being tracked by the bail bondsman because as a general rule, they don’t like losing money when someone skips out on their bail.
American History of Bail Bonds
As you can see, there is something of a vigilante quality to the bail system. Our present-day bail bond system was born in the late 19th century in the city of San Francisco. Two brothers began posting bail as a favor to the attorneys who drank at their father’s saloon. Once the lawyer’s clients showed up for their trial, the brothers got their money back. This led to their idea to charge a fee for the service, and when the brothers’ father died, they turned the bar into a bail bond establishment, eventually becoming millionaires by posting bail bonds.
By the 1940s and 1950s, bail bonds across the nation were significant enough to result in suspects either sitting in jail until their trial or paying a bail bondsman. Unfortunately, with no regulations in place, exorbitant amounts were being charged, resulting in the poorest people being stuck in jail for months until their trial. Congress eventually passed the Bail Reform Act which restricted commercial bail in federal courts and established release on recognizance which allowed low-risk defendants to get out of jail—for free.
Over the past two decades, of the 750,000 Americans in jail at any given time, a full two-thirds of those are waiting for their trial. Nearly 90 percent of those are in jail because they cannot afford bail, and perhaps even worse, “all other factors being equal, defendants detained pretrial are three times more likely to be sentenced to prison than someone charged with the same crime who was released on bond prior to trial.”
The primary reason for this lies in the fact that it is difficult for a person in jail to work with his or her attorney to build a solid defense, plus those behind bars are much more likely to take a plea offer. The median time those charged with a felony who cannot afford bail will stay in jail is 45 days, however, in Los Angeles County, there are defendants who could not afford bail who have been in jail, waiting for trial for up to six years. While not all states allow for-profit bail, the state of Florida does.
The Process of Florida Bail Bonds
So, if you are arrested, you or your family will probably deal with a bail bond company unless you have enough money to post the entire amount. Usually, the amount of your bond is set according to the offense for which you were arrested. If you are arrested for a fairly minor criminal offense, and your bail is set at $5,000, then you would pay a bail bondsman $500 to avoid spending more time in jail. If you successfully show up for every scheduled court appearance, then your bail bondsman will happily keep your $500.
If you have a higher bond, you may have to provide the bondsman with security for the entire amount of the bond. In other words, you will put up your house, your car, or another asset that is worth the entire bond amount. You will likely sign a contract that states that the asset is security for the bond. If you then “skipped bail,” perhaps leaving the state—or the country—the bail bondsman could place a lien on your home, car or whatever asset you put up.
The bail bondsman may actually have some control over what you do once you sign an agreement. The bondsman can require you to remain in a given area, to update them regularly, and to report your whereabouts. Should you neglect to show up to a court proceeding, the bondsman can find and arrest you, using whatever force is necessary. (This is where the vigilante part of the business comes in).
If you disappear, failing to appear for your scheduled court dates, not only will the bail bondsman be looking for you, an arrest warrant will be issued by the court, and your bond will be considered in default. In the state of Florida, the fee for a bond is preset at 10 percent of the listed bond. Florida has also banned “bounty hunters,” only allowing the authorized bond agent to pursue and detain a person who has skipped bail. Under Florida Statutes, Section 648.30, A bail bondsman must be qualified and licensed, and may not “apprehend, detain, or arrest a principal on bond…unless that person is qualified, licensed and appointed…”
There is one exception to the 10 percent rule, which is when a bail bondsman must post a Federal bond on your behalf. Federal bonds require 15 percent of the total amount. It is also important to note that, in some cases, you may be required to post a bond for each individual charge if you are facing multiple charges.
How Long Does it Take to Have a Bondsman Post Your Bond?
After you are arrested, you will go through the “booking” process. The time for this process depends on how busy the jail is at the time. Typically, the process takes from one to three hours, but it can vary greatly according to which county you are arrested in and can take as long as 12 hours. The one exception to this is if you have been charged with DUI, in which case you will be held until your alcohol level drops below a specified level. In DUI cases the bail bondsman has no control over how long you will be held. It is also recommended that you be polite and cooperative during the booking process, as this could have some bearing on how quickly the booking process happens.
What About “Rapid Intake”?
Rapid Intake is the quickest, least stressful manner for a person who has a warrant for their arrest to post bond quickly, avoiding spending time in jail. You could have a warrant for your arrest for something as simple as an unpaid traffic citation. If you are aware of that warrant, you can speak to a bail bondsman, who in turn will verify the warrant, then complete the necessary paperwork and post your bond. The bail bondsman will then accompany you to the jail, where your bond will be posted and you will be processed (fingerprinted and photographed) and then released. Rapid intake for a warrant can prevent the embarrassment of being arrested while at work, at school, or while you are having dinner with your family.
How Long Will You Be Accountable to the Bail Bondsman?
The simplest answer is that you are responsible and accountable to the bail bondsman for as long as you have pending court dates. If your case is dismissed, you are found not guilty, or you are found guilty and sentenced, then your bond is effectively canceled. Any fines, fees, and costs imposed by the court are not the responsibility of your bail bondsman. The bondsman’s only job is to ensure you show up at every scheduled court date. The only time a Florida bail bondsman can apprehend and arrest you is when you don’t show up at your scheduled court date. If you fail to appear in court, the judge can deem your bond forfeited, whether you paid the court in full, or paid a bail bondsman. This means the bondsman is then responsible for the entire amount of your bail, so he or she has a compelling reason to find you and return you to the criminal justice system.
What Will the Bail Bondsman Require of You?
The answer to this question really lies in the severity of your charges, in conjunction with the amount of bond posted on your behalf. The bail bondsman may help obtain court dates and will let you know what bond conditions are attached to your bond, although if you have a Florida criminal defense attorney by your side, you will likely obtain this information from him or her. The bail bondsman will require that you are reachable, and, depending on the level of the bond, can require you to check in regularly, and remain in a specific area until the time of your court date(s) or trial.
Step-by-Step for a Florida Bail Bond
If you are arrested, a friend or family member can go to the bail bondsman’s office, providing your name, date of birth, and the county you are being detained in. The bail bondsman will then look up the information and begin working on the required bond forms. You will be required to provide a copy of your Florida driver’s license, then, when all paperwork is in order, your bond will be posted and you will be released. You may be required to fill out additional paperwork.
The person who speaks to the bail bondsman on your behalf is known as the Indemnitor (if that person puts up the money for your bond, or provides security for your bond in the form of their home or other property). Both the Indemnitor and the bail bondsman are responsible for your appearance in court until the case has been completed and the bail bond is discharged.
Once your case is over and the bond discharged, any collateral which was put up for the bond will be returned to the indemnitor—minus potential fees. The bail bond process, from the initial call or meeting with the bail bondsman to your release from jail, generally takes about five hours. The amount of time necessary for the bail bond paperwork is usually about 45 minutes.
What is Required of a Florida Bail Bondsman?
To become a Florida bail bondsman, the applicant must:
- Be a United States citizen or legal alien;
- Be at least 18 years old;
- Reside in the state of Florida;
- Have a high school diploma or equivalent;
- Have never been convicted or a felony;
- Have never been convicted of a crime of moral turpitude, such as fraud;
- Have never been convicted of any crime punishable by more than one year in prison;
- Have completed 120 hours of bail bondsman classroom instruction with a grade of 80 percent or higher;
- Have taken said classes from a provider approved by the Florida Department of Insurance, and
- Have taken the required correspondence course on insurance and bonds.
After completing all the above requirements, the person will be required to obtain employment with a licensed bail bond agent or insurance company who will then submit an affidavit attesting to the person’s integrity and moral character along with the application for a temporary bail bond license. The temporary bail bond license is valid for as long as 18 months, during which time the person must work at least 30 hours per week for 52 weeks prior to taking a final exam and obtaining a full bail bondsman license.
Recommendations of Attorneys by Bail Bondsmen
Bail bondsmen are not supposed to recommend specific attorneys. But people are only human, and many bail bondsmen will recommend a favored attorney. Those recommendations are not necessarily based on attorney quality. The only reason a bond agent might recommend a certain attorney is that they probably get return business. You should select your attorney based on a personal consultation – not based on what a bondsman tells you.