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How Much Is It To Bail Someone Out Of Prison?

Getting arrested and put in jail can be a scary and stressful experience, both for the person arrested and their loved ones. Coming up with enough money to post bail so your loved one can get out of jail while awaiting trial is often a top priority. But how much does it actually cost to bail someone out of jail? The answer depends on several factors.

What is Bail and How Does it Work?

After someone gets arrested, they are taken to jail where they are “booked” or processed. At this point, a judge will decide whether to release the defendant on their own recognizance or set a bail amount. Bail is money or assets that defendants put up in order to secure their release from jail while they await trial.

Judges take into account factors like the severity of the alleged crime, the defendant’s criminal history, and their ties to the community when setting bail. The purpose is to ensure the defendant returns to court for their trial and does not flee.

If the judge sets a bail amount, the defendant has a few options:

  • Pay the full bail amount themselves. The full bail amount is returned at the end of the trial, minus any court fees.
  • Use a bail bondsman. Bail bondsmen charge a non-refundable fee, usually 10-15% of the full bail amount, to post a bond for the full amount. This allows the defendant to get out of jail as they await trial.
  • Stay in jail. If the defendant cannot afford bail, they will stay in jail until their trial.

Bail serves to motivate defendants to appear at trial. If they do not show up, they forfeit the bail money.

Typical Cost Ranges for Bail

The cost to bail someone out of jail can vary greatly depending on the specific circumstances of the case. However, here are some general guidelines on bail costs:

  • Minor misdemeanors: $500 – $1,500. Minor misdemeanors like petty theft, trespassing, minor traffic violations usually have bail set between $500 to $1,500.
  • Mid-level misdemeanors: $1,500 – $5,000. More serious misdemeanors like DUIs, simple assault, and drug possession often have bail from $1,500 to $5,000.
  • High misdemeanors: $5,000 – $10,000. For more dangerous misdemeanors like domestic violence, DUI with injury, bail can be set between $5,000 to $10,000.
  • Low-level felonies: $10,000 – $50,000. Non-violent, low-level felonies like drug dealing, burglary, fraud have bail starting around $10,000 to $50,000.
  • Mid-level felonies: $50,000 – $100,000. Felonies like robbery, aggravated assault, manslaughter often have bail set in the range of $50,000 to $100,000.
  • High-level felonies: $100,000+. Violent and serious felonies like murder, rape, kidnapping, or major drug trafficking can have bail set from $100,000 to $1 million or more.
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However, judges have wide discretion in setting bail amounts based on the details of each case. Bail for identical charges can vary greatly between cases.

Factors that Influence Bail Costs

When determining the bail amount for a defendant, judges consider factors like:

  • Severity of the crime. More serious alleged crimes warrant higher bail amounts as public safety is a top concern.
  • Criminal history. Defendants with extensive criminal histories suggest a higher risk of flight. Judges often set higher bail for repeat offenders.
  • Financial resources. Wealthy defendants may get higher bail, as they have resources to flee easily. Low-income defendants may get lower amounts.
  • Ties to community. Defendants with strong local family and community ties may get lower bail, as they are less of a flight risk.
  • Missed court appearances. Defendants with a history of skipped court dates may get higher bail to deter flight before trial.
  • Public safety risk. Defendants accused of violent crimes or who seem unstable or dangerous may have bail denied completely.

Judges weigh these and other factors on a case-by-case basis when setting appropriate bail. The details of each case inform how much bail will cost.

Using a Bail Bondsman

One of the most common ways people pay bail if they cannot afford the full amount is by using a bail bondsman. Bail bondsmen are licensed professionals who will post a bond for the full bail amount in exchange for a 10-15% nonrefundable fee. This allows the defendant to get out of jail as they await trial.

For example, if bail is set at $10,000, a bail bondsman may charge a $1,500 fee to post the full bond. The bondsman is then financially responsible if the defendant skips trial and the $10,000 bond is forfeited. The fee paid is non-refundable even if the defendant makes all court appearances.

Bond agents may also require collateral like a house or car to secure their risk. Many bail bondsmen will allow financing or payments plans for their fees to ease the burden. While bail bondsmen make the process easier, their fees are an added cost on top of the bail amount set by the court.

Tips for Affording Bail

For many families, coming up with enough money to afford bail is extremely challenging. Here are some tips for getting the funds together:

  • Borrow from family/friends. Ask close family members or friends with good financial standing to lend you money, with the promise to repay.
  • Use property as collateral. Some bondsmen accept houses, cars or valuables as collateral for bail bonds.
  • Employ an attorney. Private defense attorneys know bondsmen and can negotiate bail and bond terms. Public defenders can ask for bail reduction.
  • Crowdfunding. With sites like GoFundMe, crowdfunding from your social networks can raise bail money.
  • Bail funds. Some charities, churches and non-profits provide no-interest bail loans to those in need.
  • Financing. Many bondsmen offer payment plans or financing options to spread out the cost of their fees over time.
  • Home equity line. Leveraging home equity via loans or lines of credit can provide funds, but with the risk of losing your home if payments are missed.

Always read agreements carefully and understand repayment terms before borrowing bail money. While getting jailed loved ones out is critical, it is unwise to take on debt you realistically cannot afford.

The Problem with Cash Bail

In recent years, cash bail systems have come under scrutiny, as they disproportionately hurt low-income defendants. Someone with limited means often stays stuck in jail for lack of just a few hundred dollars for minor crimes. Meanwhile, wealthy defendants accused of serious crimes can readily afford high bails and get released.

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Being jailed pretrial contributes to things like job loss, difficulties with healthcare, and family complications. In many cases, defendants plead guilty just to get out of jail faster, even if innocent. Cash bail exacerbates inequities in the justice system between the rich and poor.

As a result, some states and jurisdictions have reformed or eliminated cash bail requirements in favor of assessing flight and public safety risks on merit rather than ability to pay. However, cash bail remains standard practice across most of the United States for now.

Cost to Bail Out for Specific Crimes

Below are examples of typical bail amounts set for common offenses. However, bail ultimately depends on all the circumstances of the case.

Misdemeanors

CrimeTypical Bail
Petty Theft$500 – $1,500
Trespassing$500 – $1,000
Minor Traffic Violations$300 – $1,000
DUI$1,500 – $5,000
DUI with injury/accident$5,000 – $20,000
Simple Assault$1,000 – $5,000
Domestic Violence$2,000 – $7,500
Drug Possession (small amt)$1,000 – $5,000
Reckless Driving$1,000 – $2,000
Driving with Suspended/Revoked$500 – $5,000

Low-Level Felonies

CrimeTypical Bail
Drug Dealing (small quantity)$5,000 – $15,000
Unlicensed Gun Possession$5,000 – $10,000
Low-value Burglary$5,000 – $20,000
Low-value Embezzlement/Financial Fraud$10,000 – $25,000
Low-value Identity Theft$5,000 – $15,000
Forgery$3,000 – $10,000
Vehicular Manslaughter (no intent)$10,000 – $50,000

High-Level Felonies

CrimeTypical Bail
Murder 2nd Degree$50,000 – $1,000,000+
Rape$50,000 – $1,000,000
Kidnapping$100,000 – $1,000,000
Robbery$75,000 – $150,000
Aggravated Assault$10,000 – $50,000
High-value Fraud/Embezzlement$50,000 – $500,000
Major Drug Distribution$15,000 – $1,500,000
Home Invasion$10,000 – $250,000
Vehicular Homicide (with intent)$100,000 – $1,000,000+

In cases with very serious or violent alleged felonies, judges may even deny bail and order the defendant remain in custody through the whole pretrial process. Each situation is unique when setting bail costs.

Notable Convictions and Bail Costs

Here are some examples of major criminal cases and the bail amounts set:

Bernie Madoff – The infamous Wall Street financier and Ponzi scheme mastermind Bernie Madoff was arrested in 2008. He originally had bail set at $10 million but ultimately was denied bail as prosecutors called him an “extraordinarily risk of flight.” Madoff ultimately was sentenced to 150 years in prison.

George Floyd protestors – In the wake of protests over the murder of George Floyd, over 12,000 people were arrested across the nation. Most protestors faced low-level charges like violating curfews or blocking streets. Typical bail amounts ranged from $500 to $1,000.

Derek Chauvin – Derek Chauvin, the police officer convicted of murdering George Floyd, had bail set at $1 million. He was able to pay this via a bail bondsman to get released pretrial. He was later convicted and sentenced to 22.5 years in prison.

Robert Durst – The real estate heir Robert Durst was charged with murder in Los Angeles in 2015. His bail was set at a staggering $27.4 million due to his access to vast financial resources and history of fleeing jurisdictions. Durst was acquitted of the charges in 2021.

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OJ Simpson – After his famous 1995 acquittal for murder, OJ Simpson was later arrested and charged with armed robbery in 2007 for attempting to steal sports memorabilia. His bail was set at $125,000. He was convicted and served 9 years in prison before being paroled.

Harvey Weinstein – Disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was arrested in 2018 on rape and sexual assault charges. His bail was set at $1 million. He was later convicted and sentenced to 23 years in prison.

Setting appropriate bail relies heavily on judges weighing the severity and circumstances of each unique case. For very serious crimes, high bail costs in the hundreds of thousands or millions are not uncommon.

FAQs about Bailing Someone Out of Jail

How much does the average bail cost?

The average bail amount is around $10,000 – $15,000 for moderate felony charges. However, bail varies greatly based on the specific alleged crime and defendant background. Minor misdemeanors may have bail as low as a few hundred dollars. Severe violent felony charges can have bail in the millions.

What percentage of bail do you have to pay?

If paying the full bail amount yourself with cash, you must pay 100% upfront. This money is returned at the end of trial, minus court fees. Using a bail bondsman instead allows you to pay a nonrefundable fee that is typically 10-15% of the total bail amount.

Can you make bail payments?

Yes, most bail bondsmen allow financing or payment plans for their fees to ease costs. There may be interest charged for payment plans. Agreements vary, so read carefully and understand repayment terms before accepting a bail bond.

How fast can you bail someone out?

Posting bail is usually a 24/7 process and can often be completed in under a few hours once all paperwork and payments are finished. However, it depends on specific jail procedures. Those arrested on warrants or probation violations may take longer to process out.

Does cash bail get returned?

If you pay the full bail amount yourself with cash, this money is returned to you at the end of trial, as long as the defendant makes all court appearances. However, some court administrative fees may be deducted from the bail amount before being returned.

Key Takeaways on Bail Costs

  • Coming up with bail money can be very difficult for lower income families. However, there are options like borrowing from loved ones, using collateral, and financing agreements to ease costs.
  • Bail bondsmen allow people to pay a 10-15% fee in exchange for the bondsman posting the full bail amount on the defendant’s behalf. This fee is non-refundable.
  • Cash bail amounts vary dramatically based on the severity of crimes charged and defendants’ background and financial resources. Misdemeanors often have bail from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Felonies can have bail from tens of thousands up to millions.
  • The cash bail system disproportionately impacts poor defendants who languish in jail awaiting trial, while wealthy defendants can more readily afford to pay for release. Some jurisdictions are reforming or eliminating cash bail requirements because of this disparity.
  • Judges have wide discretion in setting bail costs on a case-by-case basis weighing factors like public safety, flight risk, financial means and others. Bail for identical charges can vary widely between cases based on specific circumstances.

Conclusion on Bail Costs

Paying bail so a jailed loved one can get released pretrial is often vital, but it can also pose financial hardship. Understanding typical bail amounts for different crimes, along with factors judges consider, provides grounding on what bail costs to expect. Those facing high bail bills they cannot afford do have options like legal advocacy for reduction, borrowing funds, or bail bondsmen, but costs remain challenging.

The criminal justice system often works better for those with financial flexibility. Hopefully growing awareness of cash bail’s unfair impacts inspires needed policy reforms. With smart planning and knowing where to turn for help, paying bail is possible even in difficult situations.

Prison Inside Team

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We are dedicated to exploring the intricacies of prison life and justice reform through firsthand experiences and expert insights.

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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