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Bail: When there isn't any get-of-jail-free card

The day that you are arrested for a criminal activity, your focus becomes getting out of jail. Most people don't want to have to sit in the local jail or county lockup while their case is moving through the criminal justice system.

In many cases, the criminal court will issue bail for a person who was arrested. This is a financial assurance that the person will report back to court at the appointed times. There are several things that people should know about bail.

Bail vs. bond

The court issues a bail amount. You have two options for this -- you can pay the court the entire bail amount or you can contact a bail bondsman. In some cases, you can get out of jail by going through a bail bondsman to pay a portion of that bail to get out of jail. In exchange for money, the bondsman writes a bond that covers the remainder of the bail amount. This enables you to get out of jail without having to fork over the entire bail amount.

The cost of getting out of jail

If you pay the bail, you will have to pay the full amount that the court ordered. If you pay the bail through a bondsman, you will pay a specific percentage, usually 10 percent. You might also have to pay a fee. Once the bail is posted, either directly by you or by a bondsman, you will be released from jail. There might be conditions of your release, such as an electronic tether.

Showing up to court

If you post bail yourself, you will usually be able to get back what you put up if you appear at all of your court hearings. There might be an administrative fee associated with this, so be prepared for that possibility. If you have a bail bond, you won't get any of it back upon resolution of your case.

Failing to show up for court

If you don't show up for court when you are told to, you can face forfeiture of the money or assets you put up for the bail amount. If you went through a bail bondsman, the bondsman will come hunting for you because if the bondsman doesn't bring you in to the court, he or she will have to cover the cost of your bail. Of course, these won't be the only issues you have to face if you don't show up for court. You could also face more criminal charges and additional serious penalties.

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