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How Does Bail Work (Process Overview: All You Need To Know)

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How Does Bail Work Overview

In the United States criminal law, bail refers to an amount of money that a person who is arrested and in the custody of law enforcement will need to pay to be released until the hearing on the merits of his or her criminal case.

Typically, when a person is arrested for a crime, the authorities will either release the accused on his or her own recognizance and expect the person to participate in the court proceedings or detain the person.

When the authorities believe that there’s a risk that a person may not participate in the criminal proceedings on his or her own recognizance, they can still release the person provided a certain amount of money is paid in “bail”.

Bail is an amount of money that the criminal defendant puts up in court to guarantee that he or she will show up for all the court hearings and fully participate in the criminal matter.

The amount of bail will be established based on the nature of the criminal accusations, the accused’s history and background, and other factors.

The more there’s uncertainty that the accused will show up to all court dates, the more the amount of bail will be large.

Ultimately, a person who puts up bail and participates in all the court hearings until the end will get the bail money back.

On the contrary, if the person fails to show up to court during the proceedings, he or she will forfeit the bail money.

What Is Bail

So you ask: how does bailing out work?

To answer that question, we need to understand what is bail.

The way bail works is that when a person is arrested for a crime, he or she can be released for the entire duration of the criminal proceedings and trials provided a certain sum of money is given to the court to hold until all the court procedures are over.

As such, the primary objective of bail is to allow an arrested person to remain free until he or she is acquitted or convicted of a crime.

Typically, bail is expected to be paid by individuals who pose a “risk” that they may be released and fail to show up on their own for all the court dates.

As a means to compel someone to show up to all court dates and be present at all hearings, the authorities ask the defendant to put up a sum of money to be deposited with the court to guarantee his or her presence.

If the person shows up to all the court hearings and the case is finished, the bail money will be recovered.

Otherwise, the bail money will be lost.

Types of Bail

Overall, there are five different types of bail that a person can post to be release from jail:

  • Cash bail
  • Surety bond
  • Release on citation
  • Release on own recognizance (or OR)
  • Property bond 

A cash bail, as the name suggests, is a amount paid by the bailee in cash (hard cash, debit, check, or credit card).

A surety bond is when the defendant works with a bail bondsman who offers a pledge to pay the amount of the bail on behalf of the accused if he or she misses a court date.

The bail bondsman will charge a fee for this service and may also request that the defendant provide a family, friend, or third party to act as guarantor or give something in collateral.

A release on citation is when a person is not necessarily booked for the crime but is given a citation to appear in court.

Release on the person’s own recognizance is when the court accepts to release a person without bail on the basis of the person’s promise to show up in court and participate at all court hearings (this is for less serious crimes).

Finally, you have a property bond.

A property bond is when the bailee can put a property owned or asset (like a house) that is worth at least the amount required for bail. 

If the person fails to show up in court, the property may be foreclosed.

Bail History

The bail system of the United States is rooted in the laws that were adopted in England during the Middle Ages.

In fact, in England, the English Parliament had passed a Habeas Corpus Act in 1677 where the court magistrates could set an amount to be paid by a defendant as bail.

Then, in 1689 you had the English Bill of Rights that provided that setting bail should not be excessive for the defendant and based on the circumstances of the case.

Eventually, this bail system made its way into the US constitution.

In 1789, the Judiciary Act in the United States indicated that all noncapital offenses were subject to bail allowing the defendant to be released during the criminal proceedings provided the bail was not excessive.

In 1966, the Bail Reform Act was adopted to allow criminal defendants to benefit from the possibility of being released from jail during the criminal proceedings by reducing the financial burden on them.

Eventually, the Bail Reform Act of 1984 brought further modifications to the act in order to reduce discrimination against the poor and prevent certain dangerous criminals to receive bail.

This act also provided that those eligible for bail needed to have a “bail hearing” to ensure that the terms and conditions of the bail were proper in the circumstances.

How Does The Bail System Work

Now let’s try to answer the question of how does the bail process work so we can better understand the mechanics.

Arrest For A Crime

When a person commits a crime or is thought to have committed a crime, the police authorities and law enforcement will arrest the individual.

Following an arrest, the person is taken to the police station so the police can formally process the paperwork for the arrest and perform any further investigations as may be needed.

The offender is considered to be “booked”.

Typically, the police will take the time to do a criminal background check on the person, take a mugshot, take the person’s fingerprints, and record all property or belongings with the person that was seized.


As the arrested person’s case is being handled by the police, the individual remains in detention.

If the crime that was committed was not a serious one, the police can immediately allow the arrested individual to post bail and be released once booked. 

However, for more serious crimes, the arrested individual will be put in jail awaiting his or her bail hearing to determine if the accused is eligible for bail and, if so, for how much.

Bail Hearing

At the bail hearing, the first question the court must answer is whether or not the arrested individual is eligible for bail.

If the answer is no, then the person will remain incarcerated for the duration of the criminal proceedings.

However, if the person is considered eligible, then the next step is to determine the proper bail amount to pay.

Bail Amount

The actual amount a person will be required to pay in bail will depend on various factors and is subject to the ultimate discretion of the judge.

The more the crime was severe, the more the person poses a risk that he or she will not participate and appear in court, or if the bailee has a history of failing to respect court orders, the more the amount for bail will be high.

In some jurisdictions, the law may have a “bail schedule” where the law sets the standard amount for bail depending on the nature of the crime.

It’s important to note that the amount of the bail cannot be excessive.

In fact, the Eight Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects those accused of a crime by indicating that bail should not be a means for the government to make money or to punish the suspect.

Example of How Bail Works

Let’s look at an example of how the bail process works.

Imagine that a young adult gets arrested for a crime.

Once he is booked by the police at the police station, the authorities determine that he cannot be released until he appears before a judge.

Eventually, he is able to get a bail hearing where he asks the court to be released.

The court evaluates his crime, considers his criminal background, evaluates whether he will show up to court, and ultimately decides to request a $10,000 bail.

If the defendant has the $10,000, he can put that money in bail and go free.

If not, he can contact a bail bondsman who will agree to put up the $10,000 bail bond for him but will generally charge no less than 10% non-refundable fees for the service (costing $1,000).

Eventually, if the criminal proceeding ends and the defendant participated in all court hearings, the $10,000 will be returned.

If the defendant fails to make the necessary court appearances, the $10,000 will be lost.

How Do Bails Work Takeaways 

So there you have it folks!

How does posting bail work?

What is bail and how does it work?

The main objective of bail is the allow an arrested individual to go free pending trial and get a guarantee from the person that he or she will participate in all court hearings and make all the necessary court appearances.

The way bail works is that when a person is arrested, the defendant is booked by the authorities for the crime, brought before a judge for an arraignment, and eventually gets a bail hearing.

During the bail hearing, the court will determine if the arrested person who is jailed and in the custody of law enforcement should be released or not, and, if so, for how much in bail.

Depending on the defendant’s criminal history, the severity of the crime, the appeared risk that the defendant may or may not participate at all the court hearings, the court will set an amount it considers appropriate for bail.

When a person pays bail and then participates in all the court hearings, at the end of the criminal proceedings, the money will be recovered.

However, if the defendant fails to respect the release on bail conditions or fails to appear in court, then the amount paid in bail will be forfeited and lost as a form of penalty for not showing up to court.

I hope I was able to provide you further clarification on how does bailing of out jail work, what it entails, and the process.

Now, let’s look at a summary of our findings.

How Does Bail Money Work (Overview)

  • The way jail bail works is that a person who is arrested for a crime in the United States can pay a certain amount of money (bail) in exchange for the right to be released awaiting his or her trial 
  • The bail process is designed to allow criminal defendants to remain free and carry on with their lives as a criminal proceeding is launched against them
  • Depending on the nature of the case, the defendant may require a bail hearing where the court must evaluate the case and set an amount for the defendant to pay in bail money (the amount must not be excessive)
  • If the person paying bail respects his or her conditions of release, the money paid in bail will be returned or otherwise it will be lost
Arrest warrant 
Bail agent 
Bail algorithms 
Bail bond services 
Bail bonds
Bail bondsman 
Bail vs bond
Bounding hunting 
Cash bail 
Dangerous offender 
Fair trial 
Jury trial 
Lie detector 
Misdemeanor vs felony
Police interrogation
Probation violation 
Property bond
Release on citation
Release on own recognizance
Surety bond
Actus reus 
Attorney fees vs attorney costs
Beyond reasonable doubt 
Burden of proof
Civil law vs criminal law
Criminal intent 
Criminal offense 
Criminal record 
First-degree murder vs second-degree murder 
Grand theft vs petty theft 
Gross misdemeanor 
Initial appearance 
Jail vs prison 
Lawyer vs solicitor
Mens rea 
Mistake of fact 
Plea bargaining 
Restraining order 
Sealed indictments 
Traffic violation 
True billed 
Victimless crimes

Editorial Staffhttps://lawyer.zone
Hello Nation! I'm a lawyer and passionate about law. I've practiced law in a boutique law firm, worked in a multi-national organization and as in-house counsel. I've been around the block! On this blog, I provide you with golden nuggets of information about lawyers, attorneys, the law and legal theories. Enjoy!


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