Navigating the Bail Process in San Francisco After an Arrest


Navigating the Bail Process in San Francisco After an Arrest

Getting arrested can be scary and confusing. But don’t worry – this article will walk you through everything you need to know about making bail and getting out of jail after an arrest in San Francisco.

What Happens After an Arrest

If your arrested in San Francisco, you’ll first be taken to the local police station. There, you’ll be fingerprinted and photographed. The police will search you and take away most of your personal belongings. You’ll only be allowed to keep essentials like your clothes and any medication you need.

After being booked, you’ll be placed in a holding cell while you wait to be transferred to the county jail. This transfer can take several hours. The holding cells are small, cold, and uncomfortable. You’ll have to sit or stand in close quarters with other arrestees.

Once at the county jail, you’ll be searched again, given a uniform to change into, and put into a larger cell with other inmates. If you need medication or medical care, be sure to let the jail staff know immediately.

Getting Out on Bail

After booking and processing is complete, you’ll have a chance to be released from jail on bail while you await your trial. Bail is money or collateral you put up as a promise that you’ll return for your court dates. If you show up for all your hearings, you get the bail money back at the end of the case. But if you miss court, you forfeit the money.

In San Francisco, there are a few options for posting bail and getting released:

  • Pay the full bail amount yourself upfront
  • Use a bail bonds company to post a bail bond for you
  • Ask the court for an own recognizance (OR) release

Let’s look at each of these options in more detail…

Paying the Full Bail Amount

If you can afford it, the simplest way to make bail is to pay the full amount set by the judge at your arraignment. Bail amounts vary widely based on the severity of the charges against you. For minor offenses like petty theft or public intoxication, bail might only be $500-$1,000. For more serious felonies like assault or drug trafficking, bail could be $25,000 or even higher.

To pay the full bail amount yourself, the jail will accept cash or a cashier’s check. You can also arrange for someone else to deliver the money on your behalf. Once the jail processes the payment, you’ll be released within 1-2 hours typically.

Using a Bail Bonds Company

If you can’t afford to pay the full bail amount, you can use a bail bonds company to help you. Here’s how bail bonds work:

  • You pay the bail company a nonrefundable fee, usually 10% of the total bail amount.
  • The company posts a “bond” with the court promising to pay the remaining 90% if you fail to show up.
  • With the bond in place, you are released from jail.
  • As long as you make all your court dates, the bondsman keeps your 10% fee.
  • But if you miss court, the bondsman will hunt you down to avoid forfeiting the remaining 90% to the court.

Bail bonds can be arranged 24/7, making them super convenient. And you don’t need good credit or collateral to qualify. But the nonrefundable fee can still be expensive depending on the bail amount. Shop around to find the best rates.

Getting an OR Release

If you truly can’t afford bail, you can ask the judge to let you out of jail without posting any money. This is called an “own recognizance” or OR release. The judge will consider factors like your criminal history, employment, ties to the community, and flight risk when deciding.

To get an OR release, request a bail hearing at your arraignment. Explain your financial situation and promise the judge you’ll come back for all hearings. Having an attorney argue for your release makes a big difference. OR releases often come with strict conditions like electronic monitoring, regular check-ins, or drug testing.

An OR release should always be your first choice if eligible, since you won’t owe any fees. But the judge doesn’t have to grant it.

Using a Bail Bondsman

Bail bondsmen, also known as bail agents, are people who will post bail on your behalf in exchange for a percentage of the total bail amount as a fee. This allows you to get out of jail without having to come up with the full bail amount yourself.

Here’s a quick rundown of how bail bonds work:

  • You pay the bail agent a nonrefundable fee, usually around 10% of the total bail set by the court.
  • The agent posts a bond with the court promising to pay the remaining 90% if you fail to show up for court dates.
  • You are released from jail when the bond is posted.
  • As long as you make all your court appearances, the agent keeps your fee and the bond is exonerated.
  • If you miss court, the agent is on the hook for the remaining 90% and will come after you!

There are dozens of bail bond companies to choose from in San Francisco. Shop around online for the best rates. Look for bail agents with good reviews and long track records. Avoid brand new companies.

You’ll need to provide some personal information like employment, references, and criminal history. But bail bonds are easy to qualify for compared to loans from a bank.

While bail bonds provide a convenient way to get out of jail quickly, the nonrefundable fee can still be a significant amount of money depending on the bail. Weigh the costs carefully before deciding.

Getting Legal Help

Navigating the bail process on your own can be extremely difficult, especially if it’s your first arrest. Having an experienced criminal defense lawyer in your corner makes a huge difference.

A knowledgeable attorney can help in several important ways:

  • Argue to the judge for lower bail or an OR release
  • Explain your options and legal strategy after arrest
  • Negotiate with the prosecutor on your behalf
  • Guide you through the pretrial process
  • Defend you at trial for the best possible outcome

Public defenders are free lawyers appointed by the court if you can’t afford private counsel. But they have high caseloads and limited time. A paid attorney focused just on you is preferable.

Don’t wait until after you’ve made bail to contact a lawyer. Hiring counsel right away gives you the best chance of getting out of jail quickly and resolving the charges favorably.

What Happens After Making Bail

Once you’ve been released from jail on bail, your criminal case is just getting started. You’ll have to return to court multiple times before the case concludes. Here’s what to expect next:

  • Arraignment – You’ll be formally charged and enter a plea at your first court hearing.
  • Pretrial conferences – The lawyers discuss evidence and negotiate potential plea deals.
  • Motions – Your attorney can file motions arguing to suppress evidence, dismiss charges, etc.
  • Trial – If no plea agreement is reached, your case will go before a judge or jury.
  • Sentencing – If found guilty at trial, the judge will impose penalties like fines, probation, or jail time.

While out on bail, you must comply with all conditions set by the court, like drug testing, ankle monitoring, etc. Any violations could land you back in jail. So be sure to follow the rules.

Show up to all hearings on time. If you miss court, the judge will forfeit your bail and issue a warrant for your arrest. Stay in close contact with your lawyer so you don’t miss any dates by accident.

Getting Your Bail Money Back

If you make all your court appearances and comply with any pretrial conditions, you’ll get your bail money back at the end of your case. Here’s the process for bail refunds in San Francisco:

  • The court will send you a notice when bail can be exonerated, usually after sentencing.
  • Bring the notice to the sheriff’s office cashier and fill out a refund form.
  • If you paid cash bail, you’ll get a check mailed to you in 4-6 weeks.
  • With a bail bond, the bondsman keeps your fee but gets the rest back.

Make sure to keep receipts for any bail fees or payments you made. Having documentation will help ensure you get promptly reimbursed.

If bail was forfeited because you missed court, you can file a motion within 180 days asking the judge for all or part of the money back. But it’s very hard to get forfeited bail exonerated, so avoid missing court dates!


Getting arrested and going to jail, even briefly, is a disorienting experience. But understanding the bail process in advance takes away some of the fear and uncertainty.

Paying bail or using a bondsman provides the fastest way out of jail after an arrest. But explore your options for an OR release if money is an issue. And be sure to hire an experienced criminal lawyer to advise and defend you.

Stay calm, take things one step at a time, and follow your attorney’s advice. With smart decisions and proper legal guidance, you’ll get through this difficult situation as smoothly as possible.


California Bail Laws

Making Bail in California

Bail and Bonds Information – SF Superior Court

How Does the Bail System Work in California?

San Francisco Public Defender