How Does Bail in California Work?

In California, when people get arrested and charged with a crime, they will go in for processing, and then a bail amount is set. Recurringly, people can't afford to pay the bail amount, so they must use a bail bond company. In 2020, Los Angeles County stated that most arrested would not have to pay bail unless the crime is serious or violent. Further, in 2021, California updated the Penal Code 1276 that those arrested and booked for charges may not be incarcerated for the sole purpose they can't afford to pay bail. Solid and compelling evidence must be provided to the courts to show public safety is at risk if the suspect is released.

Bail Bond Agents

These companies offer contractual agreements to provide the bail amount and include a promise to show up on the court date. Often, a non-refundable fee will go to the bail bond company, which is typically 8-10% of the bail amount. Because the bail bond contract is based on the suspect appearing in court, the bail bond company will keep tabs and locate the person who signed the contract if they fail to appear. Usually, some form of collateral is required, which can be anything of value, to cover the bail bond company if a court appearance is ignored or skipped.

Trying to figure out bail after arrest and booking is an incredibly stressful time. It is strongly recommended in these circumstances to seek professional legal counsel. Finding a reputable and established criminal defense attorney in your area will be vital to overcoming the obstacles inevitably ahead. An experienced criminal defense lawyer knows the courts, how proceedings are handled, and how to ask for reduced bail amounts. First and foremost, seeking legal counsel is always in the suspect's best interest.

Bailing Someone Out

That late night call often means bad news. If a family or friend gets arrested and needs help to get out on bail, they may call for help if they can't come up with what is required to complete the contract with the bail bond agency. Most times, the instinct is to help, but it is wise to think about what this means for you as well. Felonies will have higher bails, and some misdemeanors will release someone after arrest without bail.

How well you know the person on the other end of that call is significantly important in determining if making bail is the best thing for everyone involved. If someone is repeatedly committing the same crime or paying bail is questionably affordable, two essential questions should be considered. Bail can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and even using a bail bond agency means collateral and a fee.

How Are Bail Amounts Determined?

Depending on the crime, in California, bail amounts vary. If the arrest is drug related, the amount of drugs make a difference in the bail amount. California has strict controlled substance laws, and the bail amounts support that. There will be lower bail amounts for what may be recreational and personal use versus amounts large enough that distribution is suspected. Another factor in drug arrests is the substance. Because marijuana possession is legal in some states, the penalties will typically be less than if the controlled substance is cocaine.

The risk of fleeing is another factor affecting final bail amounts. If someone is doubtful to return for court appearances, the courts can revoke bail as an option entirely or set a higher amount. Once you decide to help pay someone's bail, it is critical to do it quickly.

Once Bail Is Paid, What Happens?

Once bail is posted, the defendant is released, which is often what is considered most important. Spending time in jail, especially for the first time, can be devastating. Some people think spending the night in jail might scare someone from committing another crime in the future, while others can’t handle the mere thought of a loved one spending the night in jail. This is such a personal decision, and often many factors go into the ultimate decision to post bail or not.

Because posting someone else’s bail is a promise that they will appear, it becomes your responsibility to ensure they show up to court. If they do not, you risk losing your money and any collateral if going through a bail bond agency.

If someone you know has been arrested in California, call for a free consultation as soon as possible. Getting legal advice can make all the difference in getting the best outcome and skipping unnecessary steps that do not help the case. Criminal defense attorney Joni Eisenstein has been in practice since 2003, assisting clients in San Diego and surrounding areas. Having helped many clients after arrest, her expert advice streamlines the process and removes many obstacles.

If you are on the fence about hiring a defense attorney, stop thinking about it, and do it now

Hiring a criminal defense attorney like Joni Eisenstein can help you go from a place of uncertainty to freedom.