Common Bail Bond Terms

  • Appearance Bond

    Appearance Bonds are posted for the release of a criminal defendant in federal court. An Appearance Bond is a written promise given by a defendant in federal court that he/she will attend all required court appearances and will not engage in any illegal activity or prohibited conduct as set by the court.

  • Affidavit

    A voluntary declaration of facts written down and sworn to by the declarant before an officer authorized to administer oaths. Among other things, affidavits are drafted to obtain search warrants and to document an officer’s probable cause for making a warrantless arrest. In the administration of bail, some persons may be tempted to place a greater emphasis on this sometimes-riveting recitation of “facts” and to the charge filed, to the exclusion of other relevant factors used to assess risk of flight and to public safety.

  • Arraignment

    A criminal proceeding at which the defendant is read the charge or charges and asked to enter a plea. The essence of the arraignment is the act of pleading (e.g., guilty, not guilty, no contest) to the formal charge or charges, and although an arraignment may be continued or postponed, its goal is to obtain the defendant’s plea. The term is sometimes incorrectly used to mean the defendant’s “first appearance" or “initial appearance,” but the arraignment needn't be the first appearance. As correctly noted in Black’s and other sources, the law regarding arraignments varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and is typically explained by court rules or statutes governing those jurisdictions.

  • Arrest Warrant

    An arrest warrant is a document issued by a judge or magistrate that authorizes law enforcement to take someone accused of a crime into custody.

  • Bail

    In criminal law, bail is the process of releasing a defendant from jail or other governmental custody with conditions set to reasonably assure public safety and court appearance. “Bail” is perhaps one of the most misused terms in the field, primarily because bail has grown from the process of delivering the defendant to someone else, who would personally stand in for the accused if he or she did not appear for court, to presently being largely equated with sums of money. It is now clear that, whatever pure system of “standing in” for a particular defendant to face the consequences of non- appearance in court may have existed in the early Middle Ages, that system was quickly replaced with paying for that non-appearance first with goods (because standardized coin money remained relatively rare in Anglo Saxon Britain until the Eighth and Ninth Centuries) and later money.

  • Bail Bondsman

    Also known as a commercial or compensated surety, a bail bondsman is one who guarantees a defendant’s appearance for court by promising to pay a financial condition of bond ifthe defendant does not appear for court. Bail bondsmen are typically licensed by the state and have an appointment from an insurance company to act as such. For their services, bail bondsmen charge defendants a non-refund- able fee, and usually require the defendant (or his or her friends or family) to collateralize the full amount of the financial condition with cash or property.

  • Bail Schedule

    A written listing of amounts of money to be used in bail setting based on the offense charged, regardless of the characteristics of any individual defendant.

  • Bounty Hunter

    Also known as a “bail recovery agent,” “fugitive recovery agent,” and other similar terms, a bounty hunter is one who seeks to capture wanted persons for the reward (bounty) offered for the capture. Taylor v. Taintor, 83U.S. 366 (1872), is commonly cited as the authority for persons to act as bounty hunters in the administration of bail. Bounty hunters were thought to be an essential ingredient to bail administered through a personal surety system, which placed enormous responsibility on sureties but did not allow them to profit from or be indemnified through the bail transaction.

  • Collateral

    Generally, collateral is property that is pledged as security against a debt. Specifically, collateral in the administration of bail is typically a deposit of money or property to protect a commercial bail bondsman from loss if a defendant fails to appear for court. It can come from the defendant, but often comes from friends and family of the defendant.

  • Consent of Surety

    Primarily used with commercial bail bondsmen, consent of surety refers to a written document from the bondsman agreeing to remain as surety despite good cause for a bail bond to be revoked. Or to get permission to leave the jurisdiction.

  • Contempt

    any number of disruptive acts that interfere with the administration of justice, including violating a formal court order.

  • Co-Signer

    A person, separate from and in addition to the defendant, who guarantees compliance with a bail bond. Despite having a parallel function to that of a commercial surety, the term co-signor has grown in use primarily to refer to an uncompensated surety who guarantees only the financial condition of release.

  • Court Appearance Rate

    A more representative way of expressing the court appearance outcome by focusing on the more frequent number of court appearances, instead of the typically much lower number of failures to appear (“FTA”) for court. This rate may be calculated at the person level, by determining how many persons in a group appeared for all court events, or at the court event level, by determining what percentage of court events were attended by any person or group of persons.

  • Criminal History

    Also known as a criminal record, it is a compilation of criminal offenses associated with a particular individual.

  • Defendant

    The accused in a criminal proceeding.

  • Due Process

    Refers generally to protecting individuals from arbitrary or unfair federal or state action pursuant to the rights afforded by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution

  • Eighth Amendment

    Typically refers to the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states that “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

  • Equal Protection

    Refers generally to protecting individuals from laws that treat people unequally pursuant to the right guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution (and similar state provisions). In addition to considerations of due process.

  • Excessive Bail

    A legal term of art used to describe bail that is unconstitutional pursuant to the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

  • Exoneration

    Exoneration generally is the removal of a responsibility. In the administration of bail and the pretrial process, it is a term of art refer- ring to one being released from liability on a bail bond upon the successful satisfaction of all conditions of the bond, upon payment of a forfeiture of the bond, or upon the occurrence of any other statutorily enumerated justification, such as the death of the defendant, the surrender of the defendant into custody before the forfeiture process is complete, or deficiencies in the process affecting a surety’s liability.

  • Failure to Appear (FTA)

    The phrase typically used when a defendant or witness under subpoena does not show up for a scheduled court appearance. It is understood to carry with it some penalty for the failure, such as the issuance of a bench warrant. It has sometimes been defined as a “willful” absence from a court appointment, but research and experience has shown that FTAs needn’t be willful to nonetheless occur.

  • Felony

    In the United States, where the felony/misdemeanor distinction is still widely applied, the federal government defines a felony as a crime punishable by death or imprisonment in excess of one year. If punishable by exactly one year or less, it is classified as a misdemeanor. The classification is based upon a crime's potential sentence, so a crime remains classified as a felony even if a defendant convicted of a felony receives a sentence of one year or less. Some individual states classify crimes by other factors, such as seriousness or context.

  • First Appearance

    The court proceeding in which a criminal defendant is first brought before a judge, either physically or through some electronic transmission. The laws concerning first appearances vary among the states, and can have different names.

  • Forfeiture

    To forfeit something generally in the law means to lose the right to money or property based on the breach of a legal obligation. In the administration of bail and the pretrial process, forfeiture refers to the procedure in which a court orders that the money paid up-front be retained by the court or that a surety pay the security pledged to the court when a defendant fails to fulfill the requirements of a bail bond. Itis often used in relation to the bond agreement between a court, the defendant, and a commercial surety (bail bondsman), with numerous complicated statutory provisions governing the forfeiture procedure.

  • Habeas Corpus

    A writ requiring a person under arrest to be brought before a judge or into court, especially to secure the person's release unless lawful grounds are shown for their detention. Latin "you should have the body"

  • ICE Hold (Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

    This term is used when someone has committed a crime in the United states and is not a US citizen. The hold may transfer them to ICE custody once bail has been made.

  • Incarceration

    It is the act or process of confining someone during legal proceedings and after conviction.

  • Jail

    A jail is a building designated and used to temporarily confine persons who are sentenced to minor crimes or who do not obtain release during the pretrial period, typically operated by local jurisdictions.

  • Judge

    A public official appointed or elected to hear and decide legal matters in court. Judicial officers of the Supreme Court and the highest court in each state are called justices.

  • Judicial Officer

    Broader than the term “judge,” judicial officers include judges and magistrates, as well as other officers of the court as defined locally or in state or federal bail statutes.

  • Magistrate

    A judicial officer, often with limited jurisdictional power, who possesses whatever authority that is given to him or her through appointment or law.

  • Misdemeanor

    A crime that is less serious than a felony and is usually punishable by a fine or relatively brief confinement in a place other than a prison.

  • Parole

    Parole is the conditional release of prisoners before they complete their sentence. Paroled prisoners are supervised by a public official, usually called a parole officer. If paroled prisoners violate the conditions of their release, they may be returned to prison.

  • Plaintiff

    The person who files the complaint in a civil lawsuit.

  • Plea

    In a criminal case, the defendant's statement pleading "guilty" or "not guilty" in answer to the charges in open court. A plea of nolo contendere or an Alford plea may also be made. A guilty plea allows the defendant to forego a trial.

  • Plea deal (Plea Bargain)

    Agreement between the defendant and prosecutor where the defendant pleads guilty in exchange for a concession by the prosecutor. It may include lesser charges, a dismissal of charges, or the prosecutor’s recommendation to the judge of a more lenient sentence.

  • Preliminary Hearing

    A hearing where the judge decides whether there is enough evidence to require the defendant to go to trial. Preliminary hearings do not require the same rules as trials.

  • Pretrial

    A period of time referring to the phase of a criminal defendant’s case beginning at arrest and ending at final disposition. The term is often misused to refer to a pretrial services agency or program, or to pretrial services supervision.

  • Pretrial Services (Agency or Program)

    While widely varying, a pretrial services agency or program is generally known as any organization created ideally to perform the three primary pretrial agency or program functions of: (1) collecting and analyzing defendant information for use by the court in assessing risk; (2) making recommendations to the court concerning bail bond conditions of release to address risk; and (3) monitoring and super- vising defendants who are released from secure custody during the pretrial phase of their cases in order to manage their risk.

  • Prison

    Institution under Federal or State jurisdiction whose primary use is for the confinement of individuals convicted of a serious crime, usually in excess of one year in length, or a felony.

  • Probable cause

    An amount of suspicion leading one to believe certain facts are probably true. The Fourth Amendment requires probable cause for the issuance of an arrest or search warrant.

  • Probation

    A sentencing alternative to imprisonment in which the court releases convicted defendants under supervision as long as certain conditions are observed.

  • Pro Se

    A Latin term meaning "on one's own behalf"; in courts, it refers to persons who present their own cases without lawyers.

  • Prosecutor

    A legal officer who represents the government in criminal proceedings. They are known by different names, including district attorney, county attorney, common- wealth attorney, municipal attorney, state’s attorney, prosecuting attorney, etc. Prosecutors in the federal system are known as United States Attorneys and Assistant United States Attorneys, or “AUSA’s” for short.

  • Protection order (Restraining order)

    Often used interchangeably, but in some states defined differently, both terms refer to court orders prohibiting or restricting a person from engaging in delineated conduct. They can be mandated statutorily for all cases, or discretionary for particular cases, such as domestic violence.

  • Public Defender

    Represent defendants who can't afford an attorney in criminal matters.

  • Right to Bail

    When granted by federal or state law, it is the right to be released from jail or other government custody through the bail process. Technically, it is typically the “right to non-excessive bail,” which goes to the reasonableness of the conditions placed on any particular defendant’s release. The United States Constitution does not have an explicit right to bail clause, but that right is contained in the federal statute. Many states have right to bail clauses, even if that right has been limited for certain cases.

  • Recognizance

    Generally, an obligation by which a person promises to perform some act or observe some condition, such as to appear when called, to pay a debt, or to keep the peace. Recognizance most commonly takes the form of a bail bond that guarantees an un-jailed criminal defendant’s return for a court date.

  • Security

    Collateral given or pledged to guarantee fulfilment of an obligation. Implied is the forfeiture of this collateral if the obligation is not met.

  • Search Warrant

    Orders that a specific location be searched for items, which if found, can be used in court as evidence. Search warrants require probable cause in order to be issued.

  • Summons

    A notice requiring a person to appear in court as a juror or witness; a writ directing a sheriff or other proper officer to notify a defendant to appear in court on a day named.

  • Surety or Sureties

    Generally, a surety is a person who is primarily liable for paying another’s debt or performing another’s obligation. In the administration of bail, a “surety” is one of a broad range of guarantees (not necessarily a person) as a limit to an unfettered right to bail, sufficient to accomplish the purpose of bail – i.e., court appearance and public safety. The “sufficient surety” language found in many state constitutions was drafted long before the inception of pretrial services programs and agencies, before release on recognizance programs, and before the use of commercial sureties, so a somewhat broader definition is warranted to cover all current methods used to provide reasonable assurance of court appearance and public safety.

  • Warrant

    A writ directing or authorizing someone to do an act, especially directing a law enforcement officer to make an arrest, a search, or a seizure. An arrest warrant typically refers to the warrant issued upon probable cause to arrest and bring a person to court. The term “bench warrant” is often used for any warrant issued from the bench, but more specifically for those warrants issued for the arrest of a person who has been held in contempt, who has failed to appear, or has disobeyed a subpoena.

  • Writ

    A court’s written order, in the name of a state or other competent legal authority, commanding the addressee to do or refrain from doing a specified act. There are numerous types of writs, including, technically, a capias or arrest warrant, and the Great Writ of habeas corpus.

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