What Does "Bond Exonerated" Mean?

By Jayne Thompson - Updated March 15, 2018
Pair of handcuffs

When you or someone you love is arrested, the police will take him to the station, take his fingerprints and book him. Now, one of two things will happen. The police will either release the arrestee and tell him when to show up for a court hearing. Or, they will keep him in jail until someone posts bail. Bail bond exoneration is the very last step in the criminal justice process. It happens when the case is over, and the reason for posting bail no longer exists.

Tip

Having a bail bond exonerated simply means the person who signed for the defendant is not liable for the bail amount any more. This happens more or less automatically when the defendant appears in court as scheduled.

What Happens After Arrest

When law enforcement arrests and books someone on suspicion of a crime, one of the first things that happens is a bail hearing. This is when a judge decides whether the defendant should be released on her own recognizance, which is simply a promise to show up in court on the required date, or whether she should be released on bail. The judge also decides what the bail amount should be, for example, $25,000. If the defendant cannot afford bail, she can either wait in jail until the court date or ask a guarantor to post bail for her.

Role of a Bail Bondsman

Since most people do not have thousands of dollars in cash lying around, they call upon the services of a bail bond company. A bail bondsman makes a written promise to the court to pay the entire bail amount if the defendant runs away or violates the bail conditions. In return, the bond agency typically charges between 10 and 15 percent of the bail amount as its fee. For example, if bail is set at $25,000 and the bail agent charges 15 percent, you'll owe him a fee of $3,750. The court will release the suspect from jail pending the trial in exchange for the bail bond.

All Bonds are Exonerated in the End

Once the defendant appears in court – just as he's supposed to – the judge "exonerates" the bond. This means the bond is released, and the guarantor no longer has to worry about losing her money. The guarantor can now get her money back if she posted cash bail. If you used a bail bondsman, a "bond exonerated" order means he is no longer liable to pay the full balance of the bond. All bail bonds get exonerated in the end, regardless of whether the defendant is found innocent or guilty. The judge will automatically order a bond exoneration when entering the verdict.

Bail Agency Fees Still Payable

Bond exoneration only extinguishes the guarantor's liability to the court. It does not extinguish any fee you might owe the bail bond company. That fee belongs to the bond agent regardless of whether the defendant is out on bail for one month or one year. If the case is dropped, the bond agent still keeps the money. Some bond companies require collateral, such as a property deed, before they will post your bond, especially for large bail amounts of $50,000 or more. The bond agent has the right to seize your collateral if you don't pay the fees, regardless of whether the bond is exonerated.

About the Author

A former real estate lawyer, Jayne Thompson writes about law, business and corporate communications, drawing on 17 years’ experience in the legal sector. She holds a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Birmingham and a Masters in International Law from the University of East London.

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