There are five different types of bail, although some of them are used less frequently than others. Let’s start with the most common ones.
Cash bail means that the accused pays the full amount of bail in cash. Sometimes the court accepts checks or even a credit card.
Also called a bail bond, a surety bond can be used for any amount of bail, but it is especially useful when the accused can’t afford to pay his or her bail. This type of bail often involves a friend or relative of the accused contacting a bail agent, also known as a bail bondsman. A bail agent is backed by a special type of insurance company called a surety company and pledges to pay the full value of the bond if the accused doesn’t appear in court. In return, the bail agent charges his client a 10 percent premium and collects some sort of collateral (i.e. a title to a house, car or boat, or jewelry or electronics).
By getting a friend or relative involved, the bail agent hopes that the defendant feels compelled to appear in court, since this friend or relative is probably paying the bail agent’s premium and has collateral on the line. The bail agent’s bond is also at stake, and if the defendant doesn’t appear in court (known as skipping or jumping bail), then it will be the agent who’s responsible for paying the entire bond. If the defendant skips a court date, the bail agent, and even the family or friends of the defendant, might seek out a bounty hunter, assuming it’s legal in that state.
Commercial bail bonding is illegal in Illinois, Oregon, Wisconsin and Kentucky [ref]. Some states require bondsmen to be licensed. If you are in need of a bail bondsman, you can find listings in local phone books.
Release on Citation (Cite Out)
In some cases, an officer will not book a suspect at all but will instead issue a citation saying that the accused must appear in court. While this process is less thorough than taking a suspect to a police station and performing the formal booking procedure, it allows the arresting officer to focus on catching more serious offenders.
Release on Own Personal Recognizance
A judge may also choose to release a suspect on his own recognizance, meaning that he is responsible for showing up for court dates and does not have to pay bail. Personal recognizance is usually only allowed when the charge involves a relatively minor, nonviolent crime and if the defendant is not considered a danger to anyone else or a flight risk — meaning that it’s highly unlikely that the person will flee and not appear for his or her court date.
Sometimes a defendant can provide some property to act as a bond. In these cases, the court gets a lien (essentially a legal claim) on the property in the amount of the bail. If the defendant doesn’t show up for his court appearances, the court can foreclose on the property to recover the forfeited bail.