How Does a Bail Bond Work in New York?
A bail bond secures the defendant's release and generally costs around 10% of the bond's face value (a $5,000 bond costs $460). But the signer accepts the full liability if the defendant fails to appear.
Although most people are vaguely familiar with the concept of a bail bond, few understand the exact mechanics. This article provides an in-depth explanation of how a bail bond works in New York State.
At arraignment, if a case is not disposed (ended), the judge must determine whether the defendant can remain free for the duration and, if so, under what conditions. The judge will choose one of the options below (percentages show share).
- Remand, hold (1%)
- Release on recognizance (70%)
- Release on bail (29%)
If the judge elects to have the defendant released on bail, he or she must set at least two of the nine forms of bail established by New York Criminal Procedure Law Part 520.10. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the two forms are cash bail and commercial bail bond.
Although these two forms of bail are set together, they are not necessarily set at the same amount. In around 35% of cases, the judge sets a cash bail discount: where the cash bail amount is below the bond amount. So the judge may set cash bail at $2,500 and bond at $5,000. This is sometimes referred to as "$2,500 over $5,000".
The mechanics of cash bail are simple enough. The family posts the money with the court or the Department of Corrections and the defendant will be released. If the defendant makes all appearances, the money is refunded once the case concludes (minus 3% in the case of a guilty verdict). If the defendant misses an appearance, the money is forfeit.
A bail bond functions rather differently. First, while essentially anyone can post cash bail, only a licensed bondsman can post a bail bond (see listing of active agents here).
To get bond, a friend or family member of the defendant will need to apply for one from a bail bond agency. This person is alternatively referred to as the cosigner, the indemnitor, and the surety. By signing for the bail bond, the person pledges that the defendant will make all appearances, and if not will pay the full face value of the bond.
However, the "upfront" cost of a bail bond is generally substantially less than the bond's face value. The cost can be broken into two parts: the premium and collateral.
The premium, or fee, paid for a bond is set by New York State Law, and is generally 10% or somewhat below 10% of the bond amount. Use our Live Quote Tool to calculate the fee for a given bond amount. To learn more, see our article 'What Are Bail Bond Rates in New York City?'.
The second part of the upfront cost is the collateral taken. While the premium you pay is never refunded, any collateral you post will be refunded at the end of the case, so long as the defendant abides by the terms of the bond.
A variety of factors determine whether collateral will be required and, if so, how much. In some cases, collateral is required by the judge. In other cases, collateral is required by the bondsman to mitigate risk. Check out 'What collateral is required for a bail bond in New York City?' or use our 5-Minute Quote Tool to get a quote that includes premium and collateral.
Research conducted by New York City's Criminal Justice Agency (CJA) suggests that the median collateral taken on bonds under $10,000 was 40% of the bond's face value. That figure sounds high to us. Collateral amounts may have fallen since the CJA's survey in 2005, bondsmen may misrepresent the amount of collateral they take, or the agencies we partner with may be outliers.
If the family can afford the total upfront cost of the bond (fee + collateral), the next step is to sign the agreements. The person signing for the bond (the indemnitor) accepts liability for the full value of the bond, should the defendant fail to appear. For that reason, a bondsman will generally only approve a bond if the person signing for it has steady employment and a reasonable annual income.
Once the paperwork is complete, the bondsmen must still present the bond before a judge for approval. If the bond is approved, the judge will sign a release slip instructing the Department of Corrections to release the inmate. To read more about that process see 'How long will it take for an inmate to be released from Rikers or other NYC jail?'.
After the defendant's release the bond remains active, and the agreement is binding for the full life of the case. Every agency that we know of will require the defendant to appear at the agency offices to complete some paperwork. Some agencies require the defendant to check into the office once a week. The agencies we partner with generally require check-in via text or call.
If the defendant misses an appearance or becomes unresponsive, the bond agency will revoke the bond and dispatch a recovery agent to bring the defendant back to court. By revoking the bond, the defendant loses their bail and will be returned to detention for the rest of the case. If the judge orders the bail forfeit, the person who signed for the bond will be forced to pay the full bond amount, generally more than 10 times their initial payment.
If the defendant makes all appearances and abides by the terms of the bond then he will remain free for the full length of the case. When the case concludes, the court will issue an document exonerating of bail. In other words, all potential bail liability is dismissed. The person who signed for the bond brings a copy of this document to the bond agency, at which point the agency will terminates the bond agreement and refunds any collateral taken.
1. New York City Criminal Justice Agency (CJA), 2015 Annual Report, page 17.
2. CJA, A Decade of Bail Research in New York City, page 48.
3. Ibid., page 92.