So, you or someone you know got arrested. Now what? You may have received that dreaded collect phone call from “An inmate in the Travis County Correctional Facility”. We’ve all been there. Hell, that’s a big part of my job. But panic not – the worst is already over. What follows is a handy guide to bail, written by a guy whose cell phone number is on a piece of paper hanging in jails throughout Austin, Texas.

First things first. What is bail? “Bail” is an amount of money that a judge decided was appropriate to ensure that the person arrested shows up to court once released. It’s basically the court saying, “You want out of jail? Give us this amount of money. Now, if you don’t show up for court, we keep this money. Got it? Show up to court.” The actual amount of bail can come from a couple different sources. The most common is a bail bond company, which usually provides the entire bail amount in the form of a bond. A bond is a written agreement between the person getting released from jail and the bond company. Usually, bail bond companies charge 10% of the total bond amount as a non-refundable fee in exchange for posting the total bond amount. This is commonly known as a “surety” bond.

Another way to post a bond amount is for the arrested individual to provide the total amount of the bond. This is less common, but I do see it pretty regularly. At the conclusion of the case (win lose or draw) that amount is returned to the person arrested from the Bail Bond Board since it’s no longer needed to assure that person’s appearance in court.

A far more common outcome is for the judge to waive the bond amount and place the arrested person on a Personal Recognizance (PR) bond. This is basically a promise by the person arrested to appear in court, without any money being exchanged. This is the result of years and years of attempts at bail reform in our country, but that’s a different blog for a different day. This is most prevalent with misdemeanors and non-violent felony offenses.

Most bonds are set within 6 – 12 hours of a person being booked into jail. All you can do at this point is wait. The good news is that this is usually the worst part of the entire experience. As Tom Petty once said, “The waiting is the hardest part”.

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