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Bail bondsmen work to ensure that a person released from jail will appear again in court as ordered. A "typical" case (although, in reality, every case is unique) a bail bondsman handles may play out like this: It's late at night and the bondsman's office phone rings. A woman says her son has been arrested and his court date for trial is four months down the road. The judge set her son's bail at $30,000, and she doesn't have that kind of money. She doesn't want her son to sit in jail for four months for something she's sure he didn't do. (The bondsman may have doubts about the arrested person's guilt or innocence, but that's not an issue for the bondsman to decide.) The mother wants the bondsman's help in getting her son out on bail. She offers to pay the bondsman's fee, which at 10 percent of the bail amount would be $3,000, in exchange for the bondsman covering the bail. At that point the bondsman must decide if the son is a good risk—if he doesn't show up for his court date, the bondsman loses the money posted for bail. The bondsman does research before deciding to take the case. Using the phone and computers, the bondsman gathers more information, such as the type of crime the son allegedly committed, any past record he may have, if he works and what his employer says about him, and what other ties he has to the community. After this research, the bondsman may decide to post bond or reject the case. If the bondsman takes the case and posts bond, and the client shows up for his court date, the bondsman gets the posted money back. If the client fails to show up for court, either the bondsman himself goes after the client or the bondsman hires bounty hunters (also known as bail enforcement agents and fugitive recovery agents) to track down the son and bring him back. Depending on the state, the court gives the bondsman from 90 to 180 days to have the defendant back for trial before bail money is forfeited to the court system.
Like insurance agents, bail bondsmen are calculated risk takers. Every time they decide to post bail for someone, they are taking a financial risk. Most bondsmen have reliability standards that they use to determine whether someone is more likely to show up for court or to run and hide. The bondsman looks into the person's criminal record, employment history, living arrangements, family situation, and community ties. The type of alleged crime also affects whether a person will run. The arrestee's past criminal record and the state's case against him or her is looked into as well. Some bondsmen consider first-time offenders bad risks because those people are often most terrified about going to jail. People who have a history of crime patterns, such as prostitutes and drug users, are also considered bad risks. On the other hand, drug dealers and professional criminals are good risks because these groups of people usually need to stay in the same area and they want to keep the trust of a bondsman so they can rely on him or her later.
To help cut down the risk of someone "jumping bail," the bondsman spends a lot of time monitoring the people for whom bail has been posted. Some even include a stipulation in the agreement for posting bail that the accused person must call in on a regular basis to verify his or her whereabouts. If the accused person isn't calling in on schedule, the bondsman can get a head start on tracking down the client.
For some bondsmen, tracking down bail jumpers is part of their job, and it takes up much of their time. Other bondsmen choose to hire bounty hunters, who capture and return the client to the bondsman for a fee. Sometimes the bondsman will pay the bounty hunter as much as 50 percent of the total bond if the accused person is returned. The bondsman pays this high amount because it's better to lose half the money that has been posted for bail than to lose all the money if the runaway isn't returned. For bail bondsmen who take tracking into their own hands, the search can lead all over the country. They call the accused's family, friends, employers, and anyone they can find to try and get a lead that will eventually take them to the bail jumper. They use computer databases to check into records showing credit activity, estates, and death certificates. When the person is located, the bondsman or bounty hunter confronts the individual and brings him or her back. For a potentially dangerous "skip," the bounty hunter and a backup team may have to break down a door with guns drawn, or opt to work with the local sheriff 's department in the instance of known violent offenders.
Some bondsmen use firearms to protect themselves from possible harm. However, the bail bondsman's job is mostly desk work, and often the reason a client misses a court date is because he or she has overslept, forgotten about it, or thought it was for a different day and time.