The party who posted bail bond money gets the money back when the defendant for whom the bail was posted appears in court. The defendant needs to make all court appearances associated with the case in order to keep the bail from being forfeited.
When a party hires a bondsman, the bondsman charges a fee for the service of posting the defendant’s bail. This fee is called a premium. A party cannot get back the premium she paid to a bondsman.
When a Bondsman Pays Bail
When a defendant has a cash bail, the party must post the entire amount of the bail. The alternative is to hire a bail bondsman who posts the entire amount of the cash bail for a premium. A defendant who has a history of not showing up in court will likely have a higher premium than a defendant who comes to court regularly. A defendant with a good history may have to pay a premium of about 10 percent of the total bail.
Read More: Bail Bonds Rules
Some States Don’t Have Cash Bail
California and Washington, D.C. do not require a defendant to post cash bail in order to be released from jail. In California, each local court uses its own formula to determine who should be kept in custody and whom to release. New York has eliminated cash bail for most misdemeanor and nonviolent felony offenses, effective January 2020. New Jersey has passed laws that reduce how much the state relies on money bail.
When a Defendant Doesn’t Appear
When a defendant does not show up in court, the party who put up bail money for the defendant cannot get it back. The entire sum of the money is forfeited to the court. If a judge issues a bench warrant because the defendant failed to show, the defendant will likely be arrested and returned to jail.
A party is likely to have to post a second bond in order for the defendant to be released, and the defendant may receive a higher bail amount after the arrest. The defendant might also not be allowed to bail out a second time.
Mechanics of Getting Bail Money Back
How the court returns the bond money depends on the rules of the court. These rules are usually posted on the court’s website. For cash bail, the court usually mails the funds as a check to the address provided by the party who posted the bond. If a party posted a property bond, the court will release its claim to the property.
When Bond Is Discharged
The party who posted bond gets his money back when a bond is discharged or exonerated. A bond is discharged in four situations: when the defendant is acquitted, or found not guilty; when the district attorney drops the case; when the defendant takes a plea offer; and when the defendant loses at trial. When a defendant takes a plea offer or loses at trial, the bond is discharged at the time of sentencing.
When a Defendant Owes the Court
The clerk of court may withhold funds from a cash bond posted by a person other than a bail bondsman if the defendant has not paid certain funds to the court. State law determines what funds the court may withhold from the bond. In Florida, the clerk may withhold funds for unpaid costs of prosecution, costs of representation, court fees, court costs and criminal penalties.
Sometimes the amount of the bond is less than the costs the defendant owes. When this is the case, the court will obtain payment from the defendant or enroll the defendant in a payment plan.
- Texas Code of Criminal Procedure: Chapter 17, Bail
- California Department of Insurance: Bail Bonds
- NPR: California Becomes First State to End Cash Bail After 40-Year Fight
- Colorado Statutes 18-8-212: Violation of Bail Bond Conditions
- The Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara: Property Bonds
- Syracuse.com: New York Ends Cash Bail for Most
- Clerk of the Superior Court, Maricopa County, Arizona: Trust/Bond Matters
- New York Courts.Gov: Bail
- 2019 Florida Statutes, Criminal Procedure and Corrections: Return of Cash Bond
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.