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Types of Bail

Many people associate bail with a specific cash amount. The general idea is that if you have the money to pay bail after you are arrested, you can get out of jail. But bail is often more complicated than that, especially when the bail amount is large.

In any state or jurisdiction there may be a variety of bail types available. While some types of bail are not available in all states or situations, and some are more or less often employed than others, defendants can expect to encounter one of more of the following types of bail.

1. Cash Bond

In many situations, the police will not release an arrestee with a simple citation, but will release the arrestee after booking if that person pays a cash bond. If the defendant does not have the money, someone else can pay the bail on behalf of the defendant.

The cash bond amount is determined by the state or local bail schedule, or by a court after a bail hearing. As long as the payer has enough money to cover the full bond amount, the defendant is released from police custody.

2. Own Recognizances or Personal Recognizance Bond

Sometimes, a court releases an in-custody defendant on his or her own recognizances or on personal recognizances, also known as an OR or PR bond. OR and PR bonds are similar to a citation and release, only they take place after a court holds a bail hearing. If the court allows this type of bail, the defendant will be released from custody on the condition that he or she reappear in court at a later time and comply with any other bail conditions the court imposes.

3. Unsecured or Signature Bond

An unsecured bond, also known as a signature bond, applies after a court holds a bond hearing and imposes a bail amount, but does not require the defendant to pay that amount to be released. This form of bond is similar both to an OR bond and a release and citation. Instead of paying any cash to be released, the defendant must sign an agreement stating that if she doesn’t appear at court as required, he or she will be required to surrender the bail amount.

4. Secured or Property Bond

A secured bond, or “property bond,†is a type of bail in which the defendant gives the court a security interest in property equal to the worth of the total bail amount. A security interest is a legal right to possess or take a specific piece of property given by the property’s owner to the secured party.

For example, when you buy a car using a car loan, your lender gives you money to buy the car. In return for that money, you give the lender a security interest in the vehicle. You and the lender agree that should you fail to repay the loan in accordance with the terms to which you both agreed, the lender can repossess the car (the collateral) and sell it to recover the money you still owe. The same is true when a bank forecloses on a home when the homeowner fails to pay the mortgage. Both are forms of security interests.

So, with a secured property bond, the defendant or some other bond payer gives a security interest in a specific piece of property to the court as a form of bail. Should the defendant fail to later appear at court, the court can seize the property used as collateral to recover the unpaid bail.

5. Bail Bond or Surety Bond

A bail bond is a form of bail payment provided on a defendant’s behalf by a bail bond agent. Bail bond agents, also known as bondsmen, are people who are in the business of paying bond on behalf of criminal defendants. When defendants use a bail bond agent, they pay the agent a fee and the agent acts as a surety, telling the court that they (the bond agents) will pay the full bond amount should the defendant fail to appear at court.

Bail bond agents make money by collecting a fee from those who want to be bailed out. Typically, that fee is 10% to 15% of the amount of bail. So, if a court sets a defendant’s bail at $10,000, that defendant (or someone acting on the defendant’s behalf) can pay a bail bond agent $1,000 and the bond agent will act as a surety on the defendant’s behalf.

Like secured or property bonds, bail bond agents typically require the defendant or the paying party to provide collateral or some other form of security against the bond. (They also require that the defendant sign a contract stating the terms of the agreement.) For example, a bond agent may require the defendant to physically give the bond agent pieces of jewelry that the bond agent can sell to recover the full bond amount if the defendant fails to appear in court. Similarly, the bond agent might require the defendant, or someone else, to sign a security interest in a car, home, or other piece of property that the bond agent can repossess if the defendant fails to appear.