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Pre-Trial Release and Bail Bonds


An arrest in Virginia on suspicion of having committed a crime is not a direct trip from the squad car to a detention center. There are situations where someone can be released from jail prior to trial. The most likely forms of pre-trial release are personal recognizance and bail.

When someone is arrested for a crime in Virginia, they are brought before a Magistrate after being processed into holding. During that meeting, the Magistrate will discuss the nature of the crime, or crimes, that the arrestee is charged with, and set bail or release him on his own recognizance.

Release on personal recognizance may occur if the Magistrate decides that the suspect is of good character, not a danger to himself or others, and has significant ties to the community. This variety of furlough between trials makes the assumption that the accused will not flee, be responsible for appearing at future court dates, and be on his best behavior at all times.

A Magistrate who feels that personal recognizance is too liberal for the suspect, may want to offer pre-trial release with financial motivation to return for upcoming court appearances. This is what is known as “bail.”

Bail is a method of insuring that a suspect will return for court dates. A dollar value is assigned to the crime by the Magistrate—whether by state-determined schedules, or other means—and presented as an alternative to being held in jail. If the accused can offer that sum to the court, he will be released on his own responsibility to appear for further court appearances.

In many cases, regardless of how reasonable the bail amount may be, the accused may not have the liquid assets to cover it. Collateral is then required by the court to cover the full amount of the bail bond.

Forms of collateral include:

  1. Surety Bonds-in this case, the family agrees to pay 10% of the bail cost to a bail bondsman, who will provide the full sum to the court
  2. Property Bond-the guarantors of the bail put up their property as collateral. A lien is placed on that property; if the accused does not appear for trial, the court may order the property to be foreclosed
  3. Home-this is when they offer their home for payment purposes. Normally, the court will require that the property value have 150% equity. The home will be sold to pay the bail.
  4. Land-the client’s land is offered to the court, which sells it in order to cover the cost of bail
  5. Bank accounts-the individual or family turns over all or part of their bank account balance to cover the bail
  6. Car-this works just like houses and land
  7. Jewelry-the party offers their jewelry for appraisal, and it is handed over to the court for sale to secure the bond
  8. Firearms-just like jewelry, if they’re in good condition
  9. Items that can be pawned-this includes anything that has enough monetary value to be offered to a pawnshop
  10. Cash-the guarantor pays the full amount in cash, or when the court will accept it, credit cards or checks

Many people do not realize that bail bonds are not a price paid to be released until trial; it is simply a form of insurance. Bail collateral is held, not spent. If the defendant returns for his trial dates, the bail amount will be refunded to him.

On the other hand, if he decides to run away, the bail funds are forfeit and will not be returned. This means that any form of collateral that is presented, house, land, car, or otherwise, will be sold to cover the bond.

The defendant or his family may choose to acquire the services of a bail bondsman if they would rather not risk their other assets. A bail bondsmen will, for a fee (as little as 10% of the bail amount), pay the court the entire sum required to cover the bond for pre-trial release.

Again, if the defendant chooses to flee rather than appear for court, the bail amount is seized by the court. Unfortunately, when bail has been posted with a bondsman, he is the one who takes the loss. By signing an agreement with the bail bondsman, the defendant and/or his family become responsible for paying back the entire amount of the bail bond to their service provider.

In every case when a defendant flees, there are costly repercussions. Whomever posted the bail loses their property, or finds himself, or herself, in debt to a bondsman. Bail forfeiture will appear on credit records and criminal records. This is a consequence that could linger longer than the defendant’s debt to society, whether it is a jail sentence, probation, community service, fines, or a combination of all four.

The Magistrate, having reviewed both options for releasing the accused before his court appearances, may decide to keep him in custody. While this is often disappointing and very stressful, it isn’t the end of the process. There are other opportunities to be granted bail other than the initial hearing.

An attorney will advise his client when a bail motion may be presented to the judge during a subsequent court appearance. A bail motion is a formal request for the judge to reconsider offering pre-trial release to the defendant. If it is granted, and bail is set, the process of providing the funds to the court begins again.

It is our hope that you will not find yourself or a loved one in any of these situations, but we would like to leave you with a few words of advice. Choose a bail bondsman the same way you would an attorney: experience matters, and trust is vital. Both an attorneys and bondsmen have your best interests at heart; they understand the consequences that you may not see in the heat of the moment and will offer you the best information they can.