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How Much Does it Cost to Bail Someone Out of Jail?

By Spodek Law Group | November 29, 2023
(Last Updated On: February 20, 2024)

Last Updated on: 20th February 2024, 10:55 pm

 

How Much Does it Cost to Bail Someone Out of Jail?

Getting arrested and thrown in jail can be a scary, overwhelming experience. And once you’re sitting in that holding cell, one of the first things you’ll probably be thinking about is “How do I get out of here?” For many people, the answer is bail.

Bail is money or property that is deposited with the court to secure the release of a defendant from jail before their trial. It allows the defendant to get out of jail and await their court dates at home, rather than being stuck behind bars.

But posting bail usually comes with a hefty price tag. So how much exactly will it cost to bail someone out of jail? The answer depends on a lot of factors.

How Bail is Set

First, it’s important to understand how bail amounts are determined in the first place. After an arrest, the judge will consider the defendant’s flight risk (how likely they are to flee before trial), as well as the danger they pose to the community when setting the bail amount. Defendants deemed a high risk will have a higher bail, while low-risk defendants will have a lower amount.

The bail amount set by the judge is meant to be significant enough to incentivize the defendant to show up for their court appearances. But it cannot be excessively high to the point of just keeping the defendant in detention pretrial. This would violate the 8th Amendment’s “excessive bail” clause.

Judges have a lot of discretion in setting bail amounts on a case-by-case basis. But many jurisdictions have bail schedules that recommend standard bail amounts based on the criminal charge. For example, the bail schedule may say $20,000 for a felony burglary charge or $1,000 for a misdemeanor petty theft.

Cash Bail vs. Bond

Once the judge sets the bail amount, there are two main options for posting bail and getting out of jail:

  1. Pay the full cash amount. This means paying the entire bail amount in cash upfront. The money will be returned at the end of the case, minus any court fees.
  2. Go through a bail bond agent. A bond agent will charge a nonrefundable fee, usually 10% of the full bail amount. They will also require collateral. They then post a bond with the court for the full amount. This allows you to get out of jail without paying the full bail upfront.

Because coming up with the full cash amount can be difficult, most people use a bail bondsman and pay a smaller fee. But bondsmen will charge interest and fees, require collateral like a house or car, and may require you to use GPS monitoring. There are also predatory bail lenders to watch out for.

Factors That Determine Cost

As you can see, the specific cost to bail someone out depends on several key factors:

1. The Initial Bail Amount Set

The higher the bail set by the judge, the more it will cost to bail the person out. Bail for minor misdemeanors may only be a few hundred dollars. But for serious felony charges, bail can be $100,000 or more in some cases.

2. Using Cash vs. a Bail Bond

Posting the full cash amount upfront will be more expensive than using a bail bond agent and paying 10% of the total bail. But bondsmen add on fees and interest that can add to the overall cost.

3. The Defendant’s Financial Situation

Someone’s ability to afford bail costs also comes into play. Wealthier defendants can easily post high cash bails. Poorer defendants may have no choice but to use a bond or remain detained pretrial.

4. State and Jurisdiction

Bail laws, schedules, and costs can vary across different states, counties, and courts. Some jurisdictions impose higher bails and costs than others.

Average Bail Costs

While costs range widely, here are some general ballpark figures for average bail costs:

  • Minor misdemeanor (shoplifting, minor drug possession): $500 – $1,500+ cash bail.
  • DUI: $1,500 – $5,000+ cash bail.
  • Serious misdemeanor (assault, DUI with injury): $2,500 – $7,500+ cash bail.
  • Low-level nonviolent felony (drug dealing, burglary): $10,000 – $25,000+ cash bail.
  • Serious violent felony (robbery, aggravated assault): $25,000 – $100,000+ cash bail.

For bail bonds, you would pay roughly 10% of the bail amount plus fees. So for a $10,000 bail, you may pay $1,000 to the bondsman plus additional fees that could total $1,500 or more. Costs add up fast.

Other Common Bail Costs

In addition to the bail bond premium or cash amount, there are other costs to consider:

  • Interest rates and monthly fees – Bond agents often charge 1-3% interest per month on unpaid balances, or monthly service fees.
  • Collateral – You may have to put up a house, car, or other assets as collateral with steep penalties if you miss court.
  • GPS monitoring – Some bondsmen charge daily fees for ankle monitors or other tracking.
  • Court administrative fees – There can be fees for paperwork processing, bail reinstatement if revoked, etc.
  • Attorney fees – A defense lawyer will also cost money but can help get bail reduced or waived.

Shop around, read the fine print, and weigh the total costs. Don’t get stuck owing more than you bargained for.

Saving on Bail Costs

There are some options for reducing bail costs:

  • Ask the judge to lower or waive bail at an initial or bail review hearing.
  • If eligible, use a nonprofit bail fund that posts bond for free or reduced costs.
  • See if any bail reform laws in your state impose limits on bail amounts or bond fees.
  • Research bondsmen thoroughly and negotiate the lowest fees possible.
  • Raise money from friends and family or use personal assets as collateral instead of a bondsman.

Shop around, negotiate fees, and exhaust all options. Every dollar counts when bail and bond costs are so high.

The True Costs of Cash Bail

Beyond just the financial costs, the cash bail system imposes other burdens as well:

  • Low-income people stay stuck in jail pretrial if they can’t afford bail, even for minor charges.
  • This can cause people to lose jobs, housing, custody, and create further instability.
  • People plead guilty just to get out of jail, even if they are innocent.
  • Taxpayers foot the bill for unnecessary pretrial detention.

Cash bail widens inequalities. Wealth, not public safety, determines who gets detained. And communities of color are disproportionately impacted. Reform advocates say risk, not money, should determine pretrial release.

Bail costs are complex, confusing, and higher than many people expect. But understanding the key factors can help you or a loved one get through the process as smoothly as possible. With smart decisions and a little luck, you’ll be back home in no time.

References

Eighth Amendment, LII / Legal Information Institute

Detaining the Poor: How money bail perpetuates an endless cycle of poverty and jail time, Prison Policy Initiative

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