Bail or Bond: What's the Difference?

Sometimes, the terms bail and bond are used interchangeably, but they actually refer to different methods of securing a release from jail.

Bail is money paid to a court to obtain release following an arrest.  It is posted as a guarantee that the accused will appear at subsequent court hearings.  A failure to appear can result in the forfeiture of the bail.  In that situation, the money then belongs to the government, and the person can be re-arrested on the offense.  Upon re-arrest, if they are allowed bail or bond, they will have to put up new collateral to secure a release from jail.  Upon the conclusion of the criminal case, the bail money may be released back to the person posting it.  In some cases, the person posting the cash bail (referred to as the surety) can agree for the bail money or a portion of it to be applied against fines and fees of the arrestee.

Bond is a contract between the arrestee (principal), someone who promises the payment of money (surety) and the government that the surety will pay a certain amount in the event that the arrestee does not appear in court as directed.  In Georgia, the bond contract must be approved by the head law enforcement authority for the jurisdiction.  In a county, that would be the Sheriff.  For a municipal arrest where the person does not go through the county jail, this would be the chief of police. 

There are different types of bonds which can be approved.

First, there are professional bonding company.  In Georgia, the Sheriff has to approve any professional bonding company who wants to write bonds in his or her jurisdiction.  The company will have a limit on the dollar amount of bonds that they can have outstanding.  The bonding company charges a percentage of the total bond as its fee for posting bond.  That money is not refundable.  In some cases, the bonding company may require, in addition, the posting of cash collateral.  This may happen in cases involving out-of-state defendants or cases where there is a high degree of concern that the person will not appear as directed and the company will have to locate and arrest the subject.  The bonding company's fee has a maximum set by state law.  If the person does not appear, then the bonding company may be required to pay the entire amount of the bond into the court. 

Second, there is property bonds.  If there is someone who owns real property in the state of Georgia which has equity equal to or greater than the bond amount, they may be approved to post an appearance bond for the arrested person.  They still promise to pay the full amount of the bond if the person does not appear as directed.  

Third, sometimes the court will allow a recognizance bond.  A recognizance bond has no collateral attached to it.  It is a bare promise by the arrested person that they will show up for court.  This most often occurs for lower-level offenses where the arrested person is indigent with no resources to pay a bondsman and does not have access to a person willing to post a property bond.

In the event of a non-appearance by a defendant, the court generally does not immediately forfeit the bail or bond.  It instead initiates the process of bond forfeiture.  This is a very strict process requiring a series of notices to the defendant and the bondsperson and giving an opportunity for the defendant to come back into court.  Even when a bond is finally forfeited, there is an opportunity for the bonding company to bring the defendant back into custody and secure a refund of the paid bond.  

In many traffic cases, a non-appearance for the traffic court will cause the forfeiture of a posted cash bail which works as a guilty plea to the traffic offense and application of the cash posted to the fine for the offense.  In that situation, a bench warrant will not be issued for the person, because the payment of the fine is viewed as completing the traffic case and the person's responsibilities.

In many traffic cases involving Georgia licensed drivers, the driver can display his or her license instead of posting bail or bond.  In that situation, they may be allowed an opportunity to post cash bail prior to court to avoid their having to appear in court.

Some more serious traffic cases and traffic cases involving under 21 year old drivers will likely require appearance in court by the driver even if cash bail or bond is posted and pre-payment of the fine amounts will not avoid that requirement.  In the case of more serious charges, this may be because the court may require jail time, probation or other conditions in addition to a fine if the person pleads or is found guilty of the offense.  In the case of young drivers, it is likely because the offense could cause a suspension of the driver's license.  As well, sometimes the court will require the completion of an intervention program for younger drivers.

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