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Bail Setting Factors in San Diego

What does it mean to “post bail?”

Bail is cash or a cash equivalent that an arrested person gives to a court to ensure that he will appear in court when ordered to do so. If the defendant appears at all required court hearings, the court exonerates the bail. But if the defendant doesn’t show up, the court keeps the bail and issues a warrant for the defendant’s arrest. Bail can take any of the following forms:

  • cash or check for the full amount of the bail
  • property worth the full amount of the bail
  • a bond-that is, a guaranteed payment of the full bail amount, or
  • a waiver of payment on the condition that the defendant appear in court at the required time, commonly called “release on one’s own recognizance” or simply “O.R.”

Who decides how much bail I have to pay?

When a person is arrested and booked into jail, the bail amount is that set according to the “bail schedule,” a list that specifies bail amounts for specific crimes.   There is no discretion by the jail to increase or decrease that amount.  In order to bail out, the person must then post this bail amount.  If bail is not posted and the person remains in jail, then the amount can be argued at the arraignment, anywhere from three to five days later depending on the day of the arrest. At the arraignment, the judge can increase or decrease bail, or release the person on his/her own recognizance without the need to post any bail.

How do I pay for bail?

There are two ways to pay your bail in San Diego. You may either pay the full amount of the bail or buy a bail bond. A bail bond is like a check held in reserve: It represents your promise that you will appear in court when you are supposed to. You pay a bond seller to post a bond (a certain sum of money) with the court, and the court keeps the bond in case you don’t show up. You can usually buy a bail bond for about 10% of the amount of your bail; this premium is the bond seller’s fee for taking the risk that you won’t appear in court.

A bail bond may sound like a good deal, but buying a bond may cost you more in the long run. If you pay the full amount of the bail, you’ll get that money back (less a small administrative fee) if you make your scheduled court appearances. On the other hand, the 10% premium you pay to a bond seller is nonrefundable. In addition, the bond seller may require “collateral.” This means that you (or the person who pays for your bail bond) must give the bond seller a financial interest in some of your valuable property. The bond seller can cash-in this interest if you fail to appear in court.

Nevertheless, if you can’t afford your bail and you don’t have a friend or relative that can help out, a bail bondsman may be your only option. You can find one by looking in the Yellow Pages; you’re also likely to find bondsman offices very close to any jail. Finally, be ready to pay in cash, a money order or a cashier’s check. Jails and bond sellers usually do not take credit cards or personal checks for bail.

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