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Will You Get Your Bail Money Back?

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Oct 25, 2023

If you're arrested and charged with a crime in California, the judge will decide whether to release you on your own recognizance or to set bail. Bail is a financial arrangement between you and the court to secure your release from jail before trial.

You must promise to appear at all future court proceedings in exchange for this freedom. But what happens to that money once the trial is over? Will you get the bail money back? The short answer is it depends—on what kind of bail you put up and whether you held up your end by showing up for all court dates.

Will You Get Your Bail Money Back?
Whether you will get your bail money back depends on the type of bail and other factors.

You will get your bail money back if you pay cash bail and make all your required court-ordered appearances. Suppose you miss a court date after paying cash bail. In that case, you will not get your bail money back. Further, you will not get any money back if you post bail using a bail bond.

In the criminal court system, bail is money that must be posted with the court to be released. The primary purpose of bail is to help ensure that you show up for future court appearances. Bail is often set at a bail hearing based on bail schedules.

The judge might require you to pay bail in either misdemeanor or felony cases. Your specific bail amount will vary depending on the crime. Typically, more serious crimes result in a more considerable bail amount.

You must pay the full bail amount to the court or arresting agency to be released from custody on cash bail. While some policies of courts may vary, you can pay your bail with cash, money order, or bank cashier's check.

Suppose you attend all of your court appearances. In that case, you will generally receive a full refund after your case has been resolved. As noted, if you fail to appear for a court date, you forfeit your money to the court.

What is the Purpose of Bail?

As noted, the primary purpose of bail is to ensure that a defendant appears in court for their trial. In essence, it acts as a type of insurance policy for the court. The court keeps the bail money if a defendant fails to attend their court date. On the other hand, if the defendant meets all their court obligations, they are eligible for a refund of the bail money, subject to certain conditions.

What Are the Types of Bail in California?

In California, there are several types of bail options available. These include cash bail, property bond, and bail bond.

  • Cash Bail: The defendant or someone on their behalf pays the total amount of bail in cash to the court. This is the simplest form of bail but can be pretty costly.
  • Property Bond: The defendant or a third party puts up real property (like a house) as collateral for the bail amount.
  • Bail Bond: A bail bond involves a bail bond agent or company who pledges to pay the full bail amount should the defendant fail to appear in court. The defendant or a third party pays a non-refundable premium (usually 10% of the bail amount) to the bail bondsman for this service.

How Can You Get Your Bail Money Back?

Getting your bail money back in California depends on various factors, including the type of bail used and your adherence to court orders.

Cash Bail 

If you paid your bail in cash and have complied with all court orders, including appearing for all court dates, you should receive a full refund of your bail money after your case. This refund, however, doesn't include any administrative or court fees that might have been charged.

Property Bonds

If you've met all court requirements for property bonds, the lien on the property will be released. However, you may have to pay administrative costs.

Bail Bonds

Bail bonds are a different story. The premium paid to a bail bondsman is non-refundable even if you've adhered to all court orders. It's the fee for their service of guaranteeing the full bail amount to the court. So, if you used a bail bond to procure your release before trial, you should not expect to get this money back.

California Bail Bondsman

Simply put, you generally will not get this money back, even if you make all your court appearances. Most people do not have the means to post cash bail.  Thus, bail bonds are more frequently used and are often called “surety bonds.”

With a bail bond, a bail bondsman acts as a surety and posts your bail for you in exchange for a non-refundable bond premium (typically 10%), a percentage of your total bail amount. As noted, your bond premium is non-refundable, and there is no bail refund or return of your premium, even if you appear at all court dates.

Many bail bondsmen will require collateral with surety bail arrangements, meaning something of value that you offer the agent to ensure you will skip bail and miss court. If this occurs, the bail agent can keep or sell your collateral.

What Are Some Examples?

EXAMPLE 1: John is arrested for burglary, and his bail is $10,000. John decides to pay a cash bail of $10,000 directly to the court. Over several months, John diligently appears at all his scheduled court dates, follows all the judge's orders, and refrains from further legal infractions.

Regardless of whether he is found guilty or innocent, the court will refund John's bail money when his trial concludes.

EXAMPLE 2: Jane is arrested for a DUI, and her bail is $5,000. Unable to afford this amount outright, Jane opts for a bail bond, paying the bondsman a non-refundable premium of $500.

Jane missed one of her scheduled court appearances without providing a valid reason or evidence to the court beforehand. As a result, the court declared her bail forfeited. The bail bondsman is now responsible for paying the court $5,000. To recoup this loss, the bondsman can use any collateral Jane may have provided or seek reimbursement from Jane or her co-signer.

When You Might Lose Your Bail Money?

If you fail to appear as ordered, the court will likely keep the bail money, and a warrant will be issued for your arrest. This is called "bail forfeiture." If you have a valid reason for missing court, such as illness or an emergency, you must notify the court beforehand and provide evidence to avoid bail forfeiture.

If you put up a property bond for your release, the court puts a lien on the property. If you don't appear in court as agreed, the court will enforce the lien, putting the property in foreclosure, and you will forfeit the property.

In the case of a bail bond, if you skip court, the bail bondsman must pay the court the entire bail amount. The bail bondsman can use the collateral you or your co-signer provided to recover this cost. Contact Eisner Gorin LLP for a case review. We have offices in Los Angeles, CA.

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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