It seems simple enough – you require financial assistance to get out of jail, so you contact a bail bondsman. They agree to help you upon payment of a fee. You pay the fee, and they help you get out of jail. What else is there to know?
Quite a bit, actually. Bail bond contracts are privately drafted contracts, and the specific terms and conditions of each depend on how each contract is worded. It’s true that facing the prospect of choice between liberty and jail might make you amenable to agreeing to almost anything, but you might want to pause for a moment and read through what you are signing. Not that there is anything necessarily underhanded in what you are signing, of course – a contract that is illegal is not considered valid anyway. But you might have specific responsibilities, fees, tasks, or other conditions you may be agreeing to when you sign the bail bond contract which you may not have been expecting. It’s always advisable to read everything you sign carefully, and if you don’t understand certain terms, always ask before you sign. Below are a few of some of this legalese or legal jargon that you may find in a bail bond contract. We’ve put together a list of such terms, as well as a brief explanation of each.
To pay stated amount per annum
This is language that you have to be wary of. “To pay the stated amount” typically refers to the statutory fee, generally ten percent of the bail amount. It sounds simple enough until you add that part of “per annum.”
Paying the stated amount means that during your trial, while your case is still pending and has not been resolved with finality, you will be paying ten percent of your bail amount annually. This is certainly significant because most cases, especially in courts with a backlog of cases, it might take more than a year for your case to be resolved. Many defendants are not aware of this and think that they only need to pay a flat fee of ten percent and nothing more.
Is this legal? It may not necessarily be considered illegal because bail bondsmen do have some leeway in charging expenses deemed actual, necessary and reasonable. The whole thing turns on the definition of “actual, necessary and reasonable.” The fact of the matter is that unless you challenge the language of it in court, there will not be jurisprudence deciding one way or another on how to construe the said language.
The lesson here is to pay attention to what you are signing, and if you find anything you do not understand, or you do not agree with, then don’t sign. Certainly, if you don’t think you are capable of shelling out ten percent of your bail amount each year, you might reconsider your options. Better yet, find a bail bond agent that is a bit more conservative on their fees.
That Defendant may have been improperly arrested, his bail reduced, or his case dismissed, does not warrant the return of this premium
This is typical language which emphasizes the fact that the ten percent statutory fee is nonrefundable. You might argue that this should not apply in instances where:
- Your bail is reduced. Therefore the ten percent fee should also be reduced
- You were improperly arrested, and or your case is dismissed, which in either case might mean to you that you should not have been arrested in the first place, and therefore the bail, and the bail bond contract, should also be voided
If you sign a contract with these terms, read them carefully and remember that you will agree expressly to them if you sign the contract. First, even if your bail is reduced, you agree that the ten percent fee you already paid is non-refundable.
Second, if you were subsequently released because of an improper arrest, or because your case was dismissed, you still gained freedom during pretrial on the strength of your bail, for which the bail bondsman has put up a surety. That is what you paid the ten percent fee for, not on what might or might not happen to your case. This is only fair because otherwise, you would have remained in detention until these final orders were handed down by the judge, which could have been weeks, months, or even years later. That means you still gained value from the service rendered by the bail bondsman, and for which you paid the ten percent non-refundable fee.
Salem bail bondsman gives advice on what to do in case of violation of bail:
This is another provision with far-reaching consequences, and which you should watch out for when signing any bail bond contract. What are you empowering the bail bondsman to do should you violate bail? You may be surprised to find that you have agreed to allow the bail bondsman or his agent to enter your property, to arrest you, and to bring you back to the court’s jurisdiction.
So be very careful in reading what you are signing, just to make sure that you only agree to terms you consent to.