What You Need to Know about Bail Bonds—and Bail Bondsmen

Most people accused of a crime in North Carolina would prefer not to wait around in jail until their trial dates. Getting freedom is not only important for its own sake; it also allows a person to contribute actively toward his own defense.

Bail offers a criminal defendant the chance to leave confinement for the period between his arrest and his trial. As you will recall, a judge conducts a bail hearing held shortly after the defendant is arrested. Based on arguments from the prosecution and the criminal defense attorney, the judge will decide the amount of money the defendant may sign over to the court in order to be released. This money must be paid in cash or certified check.

The court does not keep this money permanently; it will be returned after the trial is concluded. If the defendant attempts to leave the jurisdiction, though, the court will keep all the bail.

For most defendants, this is a mixed blessing. If bail is set too low, accused criminals are too likely to forfeit their property and leave the state. Often, then, bail is deliberately set to be extremely expensive—beyond the financial reach of most defendants. Bail levels can easily reach tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, far more than the defendant’s annual income. Does that mean the defendant has to remain in jail for months?

Enter the bail bondsman

The gap between the court’s specified bail and the financial resources available to a typical defendant has created the opportunity for a private bail bonds business to develop. In a typical transaction, a North Carolina criminal defendant who is unable to pay the full amount of bail will contact a bail bondsman. The bondsman will examine the particulars of the case and may agree to provide a bail bond for the defendant.

The bondsman will then pay the court the amount of bail in order to get the defendant released. In return, the defendant will sign a contract with the bondsman a bail fee (sometimes called the premium), generally worth 10 to 15 percent of the amount of bail. This is a payment to the bondsman and will not be returned.

In some cases, the bail bondsman will also demand that the defendant surrender additional property on a temporary basis. If the defendant has a history of failing to appear for court dates or is believed to be a risk of fleeing, the bondsman may ask the defendant to sign a promissory note for additional fees, or to sign over the title of a vehicle or real estate. This additional property is called collateral and will be returned to the defendant after his case ends (by plea bargain, conviction, or acquittal). The bondsman is not allowed to treat this property as his own unless the defendant runs away or misses a court appearance.

It should be stressed that defendants are not guaranteed a right to obtain a bail bond. However, well over a thousand bail bond companies operate in North Carolina. If one rejects a defendant as too risky, another may be willing to provide a bond.

Do you need a lawyer to help you through the bail process?

You are always free to try to negotiate with a bail bondsman on your own, or have another family member do it for you. If you choose this approach, don’t expect good results. It’s not that New Hanover County bondsmen will take advantage of you, but you do not have the experience to know whether you’re getting a good deal.

The North Carolina bail release attorneys at Speaks Law Firm in Wilmington have precisely that experience. Our lawyers negotiate with bail bondsmen every week, and we can advise you when you’re being offered a bad bargain. Connect to us by calling 877-593-4233 toll-free and learn how a Speaks Law defense strategy can get you the best possible outcome for your case.

R. Clarke Speaks
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Trial Lawyer and Founder of Speaks Law Firm, P.C.