What You Need to Know If You Have a Family Member in Jail

There are few things more emotionally devastating than finding out that a family member has been charged with a crime and taken into custody. When this happens, your most pressing concern will be getting your loved one out of jail. Typically, this will involve dealing with the bail process, a procedure most people are not very familiar with. This article examines some basic concepts about bail everyone should know in case they find themselves in this difficult situation.

How the Bail Is Set

Bail is often set by a judge in the hearing; but depending on the policies of the jurisdiction, it can sometimes be posted by a defendant immediately after booking. When the bail is set by a judge, the judge will generally adhere to a bail schedule, also known as standard bail, which recommends certain bail amounts for specific crimes. For example, for a non-violent misdemeanor, the bail schedule might recommend a bail of $500. Judges have the right to drop standard bail recommendations and impose a higher bail or refuse to offer any bail at all if they feel the defendant is a flight risk.

In the most serious cases, such as murder, bail may be denied and the defendant must remain in custody until a trial.

Ways to Pay the Bail

Once the bail for your family member has been set, you generally have several options. The first option is to simply pay the full amount of the bail to the court. Of course, depending on the bail amount and your family's financial circumstances, this may be impractical.

Another option is to put up some property or collateral with the court, which is known as a property bond. However, this type of bail is not allowed in every state.

Perhaps the most common type of bail is a surety bond from a bail bondsman service. The bondsman will pay the bail in exchange for a fee—usually 10 percent of the bail amount—and sufficient collateral. You will not get the fee back, but your collateral will be released when your family member shows up for their trail. The risk is that you will lose your collateral if your loved one does not show up for the trail and becomes a fugitive.

The bail process can be complicated because the relevant laws and practices can differ from state to state or from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. For more information concerning this important legal issue, talk with a licensed bail bondsman in your area.