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What is Bail in a California Criminal Case?

What is bail or bond exactly and what does it have to do with a criminal case? In California, “bail” can be money or it can be property that a criminal defendant puts up, and in return, the defendant promises the court that he or she will show up at all future court dates. Bail is a basic right owed to criminal defendants, as long as letting such defendants out of custody does not pose a risk to society. When a judge sets an amount of bail, he or she will take a number of factors into consideration, such as:

  • The nature of the crime (its seriousness),
  • If the defendant is a danger to the community, and
  • If the defendant is a “flight risk.”

There are a number of ways a defendant can pay bail. He or she can pay it in cash, with a bail bond, and in some cases, with a pledge of property (with the court’s permission). If the defendant chooses a bail bond, the defendant typically uses a professional bail bondsman. In this scenario, the defendant usually pays 10% of the bail, and the bondsman makes a promise to the court that he or she will come up with the rest of the bail if the defendant fails to attend his or her court appearances.

What Happens After Bail Has Been Paid?

If the prosecutor decides not to pursue the case and dismiss the charges, or if the defendant is found not guilty at trial, or if the defendant loses his or her case and is placed in jail or prison, the bail will be exonerated. This means the bail bondsman must release the property (collateral) that was used to secure the defendant’s bail.

Note: If you are a defendant and you use a bail bondsman, it’s very important that you get them to release the lien they placed on any real estate that was pledged for your bond.

When a Defendant Fails to Appear in Court

“What if a defendant misses one or more court dates, what happens next?” In this case, the bail bondsman is forced to pay the court the full amount of the defendant’s bail, and bail bondsmen do not take kindly to this. For starters, a bench warrant will be issued for the defendant’s arrest and law enforcement will be notified.

If someone cosigned or pledged their property for the defendant’s bail, then they will likely face the consequences. Such parties who tried to help the defendant get out of custody can now be sued for the money the bondsman had to pay the court, or they face losing the collateral they pledged – this could mean their residence.

People who try to help friends and family facing criminal charges must understand that it can be very risky for them to post bail for someone else, especially if they are not 100% confident the defendant will appear in court as required. But of course, for close friends and family of a defendant, that’s usually a risk they’re willing to take.

To learn more about posting bail in Oakland and throughout the East Bay, contact the Law Office of Nabiel C. Ahmed for a free consultation.

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