Bail – How it Works in Los Angeles and Surrounding Counties

Bail – How it Works in Los Angeles and Surrounding Counties

     When someone is arrested in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, or Riverside counties one the first considerations that person or their family has to consider is bail.  Bail is money deposited with the court system where the case will be heard in order to protect the public and ensure that the arrested person shows up for their first and subsequent court dates.  If that person does not show up for their court date after bail is deposited, that money is forfeited to the court.  Once the case is resolved, either through sentencing or a dismissal, the bail money is then returned to the depositor.  If someone is unable to make bail, they will stay in jail until their case is resolved.

     So how does bail work?  Typically, most misdemeanors carry bail anywhere between $1,000 and $50,000.  Felonies can range from $20,000 to more than $1,000,000 depending on the severity of the crime.  OR, or “own recognizance” release, is when an accused person does not have to pay any form of bail, but only promises to appear for a court date.  OR release typically happens with misdemeanors only and is generally unavailable for felonies.  Theoretically, the entire amount of bail is paid to the court, which would stay deposited until the case concludes with a dismissal or sentencing, where the money would then be returned.  Obviously, only a few people would be able to afford to deposit that amount of money with the court, so bail bond companies step in to provide service to the general public who otherwise would not be able to afford bail.

     So how do bail bond companies work?  Bail bond companies typically charge 7-10% of the total bail amount to its customers in return for the bail bond company to put up the entire amount of bail with the court.  Take, for instance, a crime where the bail to be posted is $100,000.  Instead of putting down $100,000 with the court, the family goes to a bail bond company for help.  That family will end up paying anywhere from $7,000-$10,000 over time(7-10% of $100,000) for the bail bond company to post the $100,000 bond with the court.  Bail bond companies are also like other financial institutions; think of it like a loan, so they can require down payments, good credit/collateral, and monthly payments.   That means that on a $100,000 bond an accused person can be bailed out with only a fraction of that money paid as a down payment to a bail bond company and the promise to make monthly payments.

Special Considerations – Penal Code 1275.1 Hearings

     Judges can deny bail if that judge believes that the source of the funding was “feloniously obtained” per California Penal Code section 1275.1.  Essentially, that means that when someone is charged with a felony that person’s bail could be subject to judicial oversight where a judge might deny bail if the source of the funding for bail (even through a bail bond company) cannot be proven as legitimate.  For example, if a suspected drug dealer pays his bail bondsman cash but cannot prove that he has legitimate income that would explain having that amount of cash, a judge may deny bail per Penal Code section 1275.1 until bail can be met with legitimate funding (this is also a common occurrence in fraud or other financial crime cases).  Surprisingly, many bail companies do not know how to do 1275.1 hearings, so it is important to choose your bail company wisely as a few know how to prepare for these hearings.

Special Considerations – the 48 Hour Rule

     An important thing to know when dealing with any arrest (and bail) is that an arrested person must be brought to court within 48 hours (when the court is open).  That means weekends don’t count.  For example, if someone is arrested on a Friday, they must be charged and see a judge by Tuesday, or else they must be released from jail (however they can be charged later down the line).  This can be a tactical consideration when paying bail, as bail can often be lowered if the prosecuting agency charges different crimes than the arresting agency.  This commonly happens when dealing with domestic violence under Penal Code section 273.5, which can either be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor.  It is never charged by police as a misdemeanor and is always charged as a felony.  However, over 90% of cases I have handled where there are no significant injuries, prosecutors will typically charge these potential defendants with a misdemeanor, even though law enforcement originally alleged a felony.  The difference between misdemeanor bail and felony bail for a domestic violence 273.5 offense can be $30,000 or more.  That means that by bailing out immediately after a domestic violence arrest, a potential defendant might pay $3,000 more to a bail bond company (being 10% of $30,000) when if they had waited they could have had bail lowered to a misdemeanor level.  It is also important to note that many bail bond companies will not lower the amount of a bail bond when charges are dropped to lower levels down the line, as their clients are paying them for the service of being able to get out of jail immediately.

     Another consideration is that when an arrest occurs, law enforcement may not be able to get all of the paperwork to the prosecutor prior to the 48 hour court date, nor will the prosecutor be able to review the case prior to charging, and many cases end up being thrown out by the end of the business day 48 hours after arrest.  This means that with the guidance of a skilled attorney, a potential defendant can save thousands of dollars by simply waiting on the system.  

Final Thoughts

      Bail is extremely important and its importance only increases with the severity of the crime which someone is accused.  I have only touched on some of the issues relating to bail in this blog article.  But the bottom line is: having both a good attorney and a reputable, informed bail company are essential.   As I have represented hundreds of clients in the greater Los Angeles area and surrounding counties, I have seen and heard of numerous horror stories regarding poor bail bond companies who simply don’t know what they’re doing or have terrible customer service.  When you contact an attorney like me as soon as an arrest occurs, we can guide you to reputable bail bond companies that will make life easier down the road (and we can also alleviate some of the stress of going through this process by explaining the bail process and guiding our clients through it).  I have personally saved my clients over a million dollars through the years simply by being available to them and advising them prior to choosing a bail bond company or making the decision to bail out.

Written March 22, 2022