Getting Bailed Out – Facts You May Not Know


No one plans on getting arrested. If you do, or if you get a call from a loved one, it is important to know your rights regarding being released from custody and getting back home. We have a right in California to "reasonable bail". But what does this mean?

What is "bail"? "Bail" refers to an amount of money that you have to pay in order to be released from custody. Some of us have had an experience getting a traffic ticket. We have to sign the ticket before we are released by the traffic officer, and we promise to appear in court on a certain date. Our signature at the bottom of the ticket is our written contract with the courts, indicating our promise to appear to answer for the speeding ticket we are being accused of.

In more serious cases of misdemeanors or felonies, our signature at the bottom of a ticket is not enough in the eyes of the law to make sure that we make our court appearance. The courts want a person accused of a more serious crime to deposit a large amount of money with the court, and that deposit is only returned to a person if they make their court appearances like they promised. This deposit is called "bail".

The bail amount can be $5,000, $10,000, $100,000, $1 million or more. The amount is determined by the Superior Court in your county and is set in a written document each year called a "Bail Schedule". Sometimes the amount of bail set on a case can be lowered, and sometimes the amount can be raised. The court looks to two factors: 1) the risk to public safety, and 2) the risk of a person fleeing the jurisdiction, not making their court appearance.

If a person is not a risk to public safety, and there is little risk to them fleeing the jurisdiction, the jail or the court can release a person "on their own recognizance" by making them sign the bottom of a ticket just like for a person who is speeding. The release of a person on their "own recognizance" is referred to as a release "O.R." A person who is in custody can request an O.R. release from the jail, and if that is denied, they can have their attorney request an O.R. release or a lower bail when they go to court.

What if you do not have enough money to post the amount of bail that is set on a case? There are two options. The first is that you stay in jail until your case is finished. That is not a very appealing option for most people. The second option is that you can go to a "bail bond" company who can post your bail to the court for a fee. How this works is that the bail bond company charges you a non-refundable fee that is usually equal to about 10% of the amount of bail that was set by the court or the jail. For a $5,000 bail, you would need to pay the bond company $500. This amount is non-refundable, and then the company pays your bail amount. If you do not make your court date, the bail bond company has a right to track you down and forcibly bring you back to court, or they can foreclose on your home or other assets to recoup their money.

Be careful, however. Some bail bond companies are honest and reputable, but others are not. The best thing to do is to call someone you can trust to get a referral to a good bail bond company. Most attorneys will know a few bail bonds companies, and can give you a few names to call.

So if you or a loved one ends up arrested, the first step will usually be to get bail posted, whether that is all paid by you, or paid through a bail bond company. The next step is to call us right away, so that we can answer the rest of your questions about your case.