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Pros/Cons: How to Choose Between a Surety Bond, Cash Bail, or Release on Personal Recognizance

After an arrest, one of the first things the arrestee wants to know is what he or she has to do to get out of jail. For some, there may be no bail or bond. They are to be held in custody until trial. For others, options such as a surety bond, cash bond or release on personal recognizance may be available.

Surety Bond

A surety bond is a contract between an insurance company or a bondsman representing the insurance company. The fee for getting someone out of jail is 10 percent of the total bond amount. This amount is regulated by the Washington State Insurance Commissioner. That fee is not refundable. The bondsman then provides the court with a surety bond that states he or she and the insurance company is responsible for the full amount of the bond if the person does not appear at court. It is not just for one court date, either, but every court date until the case is resolved.

Most bondsman require someone over 21 to "co-sign" the bond. If the bond is large, the bondsman may require property as collateral for the total amount of the bond. Collateral is an asset that can be pledged to the insurance company or bondsman to ensure that defendant will appear at all court appearances. If the person "jumps bond", the surety company will be able to sell the collateral property to recoup the amount they have to pay to the court because the defendant did not appear. They may also sue the co-signer to recover the bond amount.

An advantage to using a surety bond is that you don't have to come up with the full amount of the bond. For cosigners who had to put up their property as collateral, having the surety company responsible for a defendant appearing in court can be somewhat comforting.

One of the disadvantages of a surety bond is that the fee paid to the bondsman is gone. Even if the defendant appears at every court date and then is found not guilty, the 10 percent paid to the bondsman is not money the defendant will get back.

Cash Bail

Cash bail is just what it sounds like. Cash in the total amount of the bail is paid to the court. When the case is concluded and if the defendant appeared at all of the court hearings, the money is returned minus any fees or fines. The advantage to bail is that the full amount of the bond is returned to you after court costs and fines have been paid. A disadvantage is trying to come up with the total amount of the bond.

Release on Personal Recognizance
If a judge releases a defendant on his or her own recognizance, he or she is trusting that the defendant will return on the scheduled court dates. No money is required to be put down for the defendant's release. There may be requirements for this type of release, such as the defendant may need to report to law enforcement on a specific schedule or be part of an electronic monitoring program.

The advantages of this type of release are easily apparent. The defendant does not need to post a cash bail or a surety bond to get out of jail. However, there could be disadvantages, too, such as the requirements or restrictions the court puts in place to limit a defendant from absconding.

In Closing

The court looks at a number of factors before determining how – and if – a defendant's release is handled. A bail or bond hearing may be scheduled in an attempt to lower the amount of bail or bond needed for a defendant's release. As long as the defendant appears in court when required, there should be no issue with any of the types of release.