How Does Bail Work in Florida?
If you’ve been arrested in Florida, you probably don’t want to sit in jail awaiting trial or the resolution of your case. While some states have begun to move away from cash bail systems, Florida has not. As such, you may be required to post bail or a bail bond before you are released.
While most people are familiar with the concept of posting bail or “bonding out,” there is a lot of confusion about the difference between bail and bond, when you do and do not get your money back, and other aspects of the Florida bail system.
Bail v. Bond: What’s the Difference?
The terms “bail” and “bond” are often used interchangeably, but they are different. While securing bond is more affordable in the short-term and may allow a defendant who can’t afford bail to get out of jail and back to work and family, bond is more expensive in the long run.
What is Bail?
Bail in Florida is the amount set by the court to secure pretrial release. The amount of bail is determined based on a number of factors, including:
- The crime the defendant is accused of
- The weight of evidence against the defendant
- Past convictions and other past conduct
- Failure to appear in court in the past
- Ties to the community including family in the area, length of local residence, and employment history
- Whether the defendant’s release poses a danger to the community
- Whether the defendant poses a flight risk
- Financial resources
- Mental condition
- The source of funds used to post bail or secure bond
There are also considerations specific to certain crimes, such as the value of controlled substances involved in a drug-related crime or the likelihood of danger or intimidation to victims. Ultimately, the court may consider any factors it deems relevant.
Terms of Pretrial Release
A defendant who is released on bail (or through a recognizance bond or other arrangement) pending trial, certain conditions are attached. Under Florida law, a person released pending trial must:
- Not engage in any type of criminal activity
- Refrain from communicating with the alleged victim, if the court enters a no-contact order
- Comply with any additional terms of release ordered by the court
Failure to comply with such Court orders can result in the revocation of a defendant’s bond, which is not only expensive, but would also result in the defendant being placed back in jail. So, it is very important that you understand and comply with the terms of pretrial release. If you have questions or are uncertain, ask your attorney. And, of course, it’s critical that you are present and on time for every scheduled court appearance. If an actual emergency prevents you from appearing in court, contact your attorney as far in advance of the court date as possible.
Where Does the Bail Money Go?
Bail is deposited with the local jail, and is held until the defendant has fulfilled all of his or her obligations to appear in court on the charges. If the defendant doesn’t violate the terms of bail, the money is returned after the proceedings conclude. The money is returned even if the defendant is convicted. However, the court may use bail funds to cover outstanding fines, court costs, and restitution. In that situation, any remaining balance after those costs are paid will be returned to the defendant. This typically takes a week or two after the conclusion of the criminal case.
Many Florida courts, including the Duval County Court, have standard bail amounts for common misdemeanor charges. However, the court can increase or reduce the amount of bail required.
Often, the amount of bail is too high for the accused person to pay in cash. That’s where bail bonds come in.
What Are Bail Bonds?
When a person who has been arrested can’t afford bail, he or she has the option of working with a bail bond agent, sometimes known as a “bondsman” or a “surety agent.” The standard arrangement is that the defendant (or someone on the defendant’s behalf) pays the bail bond agent 10% of the bail amount. The bondsman then posts the full bail amount. So, if bail is set at $10,000 and the defendant uses a bail bond agent, the defendant pays the agent $1,000 and the agent posts $10,000 or with the court.
This is good for defendants in one way: many people who could never afford cash bail to get out of jail can pay the 10% required to secure release through a bonding agent. For some, that makes the difference between a short-term disruption and long-term problems like job loss, critical child care issues, and even the loss of a place to live. But, there’s a downside to bail bonds–the 10% paid to the bondsman is a fee, not a deposit to ensure appearance.
That means the $1,000 is gone forever. Even if the charges against the defendant are dismissed entirely, that money isn’t coming back. That seems unfair to many people who have been cleared of criminal charges, and is part of the reason many people have trouble understanding how bail bonds work. But, the bonding agent is a private business unconnected to the court or prosecuting attorney. The service the agent provides is to put up the remaining 90% of the cash required to secure the defendant’s release
The Bail Bond Process
A bail bond may be secured by the defendant or someone else, like a family member. The person contracting for the bond not only pays the 10% fee, but must also agree to be responsible for the remainder of the bail posted by the bond agent if bail is forfeited. Depending on the amount of the bail and other factors, the bond agent may require collateral, such as a lien on real estate, to ensure that the agent can recover its losses if the bail is forfeited.
Once the contract is executed and the fee paid, the bonding agent deposits the full amount of the bail with the court, and the defendant can be released. The court holds the funds until the case concludes, unless the defendant forfeits the bond by failing to appear in court or otherwise violating the terms of pretrial release.
When bail is forfeited, the defendant may be returned to jail, or may be allowed to bail out again with new terms of release. Either way, the bond agent loses its money. That means in a worst-case scenario, the defendant may end up back in jail pending trial and also be on the hook for the full amount of bail posted by the bond agent. In this scenario, the bond agent may sue the person who guaranteed the bond, and may even attach property that was offered as security.
Assuming the case concludes without bail being forfeited, the money will be returned to the bond agent.
Is Bail Always Required?
In some cases, the defendant may be released without posting bail or bond. In most cases, the court has the discretion to grant a recognizance bail or bond amount. This is sometimes called being released on “your own recognizance” or a “personal recognizance bond”. It simply means that the defendant is released without bail or bond and ordered to return to court at the appropriate time. The court essentially relies on the defendant’s word that he or she will comply with any terms of pretrial release, including appearing in court as ordered.
Even if bail has already been set, it may be possible for an experienced Jacksonville criminal defense attorney to secure a reduction in bail, or even a recognizance bond. If you or a loved one is in jail awaiting trial because you can’t afford bail, it is in your best interest to consult with a local attorney who is knowledgeable about bail proceedings.
Of course, bail is just the first of many issues a criminal defendant faces. Working with an experienced criminal defense attorney from the beginning also helps preserve defenses, ensures that you don’t miss out on important opportunities to raise defenses, make motions or gather evidence, and identify weaknesses in the prosecution’s case. The defense firm of Lufrano Legal P.A. is dedicated to helping people at all stages of the Florida criminal justice process. To learn more about how we can help, call 904-513-3905 or fill out the contact form on this site.