The Basics of California Criminal Bail

Posted by Chris Morales on Wed, Oct 10, 2012 @ 07:00 AM

the county jailThe last place you (or a friend or family member) thought you (or they) would end up in is jail. But if it ever happens, we have laid out the exact steps you will need to take to get out of jail. Understanding the process can help take the sting out of the otherwise embarrassing and frightening predicament and expedite your release, so you can get back to your family and your job.


The bail process is simple.


Bail is simply the money paid to the court to insure your return for future hearings. In some cases you can be released on your own recognizance (O.R. release), which means you promise to attend court appearances, so posting bail is not necessary. Sometimes, regarding certain crimes, you will be denied bail and must remain in jail until your hearing.


How much does bail cost?


Bail amounts vary according to the alleged offense. Each California county has its own bail schedule, which sets an amount for each crime. The amount of bail goes up according to the seriousness of the offense. This bail schedule can be altered at the discretion of the judge, according to the facts of your case, flight risk and criminal past. In order to lessen the financial strain of posting bail, it is imperative to ask for a bail hearing or O.R. release.


The three types of bail


  1. Cash Bail: You must pay the entire bail amount with the court clerk or arresting agency. According to your particular court's policy, you may be allowed to pay with cash or by money order, or personal, cashier's or traveler's check. You will receive a refund upon case resolution. Failure to appear (FTA) means forfeiture of your money.
  2. Bail Bonds: This more common type of bail is for people who can't afford to pay the full amount of their set bail. Bail bondsmen or bail agents will post you out of jail for a much lower percentage of your bail. This amount is not refundable. The California maximum is 10% of your bail amount. For cases lasting for more than a year, you may be required to pay a renewal fee. Some bail bondsmen may need some type of collateral. If you don't attend your scheduled hearings, the bondsman has the right to keep or sell your collateral.
  3. Property Bond: In lieu of other types of bonds, the court will place a lien on your property. Failure to appear in court will mean foreclosure of the property.

Bailing out someone else


If you are bailing somebody out of jail through a bail bondsman, you are considered the cosigner. That means you promise that the defendant will appear at his scheduled hearings. Failure to appear means the bondsman will instigate collections from the defendant first, but ultimately you will be responsible for repayment.


What if I don't show up?


Failure to appear means you forfeit your bail and the judge may issue a bench warrant for your arrest. In this instance, none of a cash bail will be returned to you. For a bail bond, the company will require reimbursement. If, within 180 days of bail forfeiture notice, you can give a satisfactory excuse for missing your hearing, your bond may be vacated and exonerated. Below are examples of good cause for missing a court date:

  • severe illness
  • disability
  • in custody in another jurisdiction
  • insanity

Case what?


The court releases or exonerates your bail when your case is concluded, when the court orders a drug diversion program, when you are declared incompetent to stand trial or, after an adverse verdict, you are committed into custody. If your conviction includes a fine or restitution, bail is applied to those penalties.


Posting bail can seem like a daunting task, but it's a straightforward process. Do not hesitate to contact us for other questions about bail laws around the San Francisco Bay area, or to discuss a specific case.


Call us with your questions about bail




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