Frequently Asked Questions about Bail in Las Vegas
Many of my clients have been arrested on criminal charges and need to get bailed out as soon as possible. Others have already been bailed out but are confused about their rights and obligations to the bond company, which is understandable, especially if you don't have any experience dealing with criminal charges. Here are some questions I frequently hear from clients on this subject. Hopefully you will find the answers to these questions helpful.
How long does it take to get bailed out?
It can take several hours for a jail to release a person after the bond is posted with the jail. When a bondsman posts a bond, he basically fills out a form promising to make sure the defendant doesn't miss his court date. Once the jail has that form, the bond has been "posted." Now we wait. You should keep in mind, certain criminal offenses require a mandatory minimum number of hours in jail (e.g., domestic violence charges require a 12 hour "cooling off" period before you can be released from jail). Also, if you get arrested overnight and find yourself in CCDC, the earliest a bond can be posted is 8:00 a.m. If the bond is posted at that time, you will realistically be released no earlier than early afternoon (a several hours wait). Why does CCDC take so long to release people once a bond has been posted? They say it's because they release people in groups due to staffing issues, so they will wait for a sufficiently large group of inmates is ready to be released. Anyway, the reason why is not really important. The reality is that you will be stuck waiting several hours to get released after you pay money to bail out.
"Do I get my bail money back (when the case is over)?"
I hear this question a lot, and the answer is "No." Not if you go through a bondsman. When you pay a bondsman, you're paying him a percentage of the total bail (read more about this below) to secure your release from jail. The bondsman gets you out of jail by delivering to the jail a written promise (a bond) that he will pay the full amount of the bond if you miss court and can't be found within a certain amount of time. If you got back the money you paid to the bondsman, what would the bondsman get for providing this service?
You only get your money back if you put up the entire amount of bail yourself, then wait for the bail to be "exonerated," which basically means that the defendant has showed up to court when he was supposed to, that the case is over and the money is no longer subject to forfeiture. There are some major drawbacks to putting up the money yourself rather than going through a bail bondsman. You have to pay a lot more money. Not everyone has that kind of money, and even if you do have the money, you may not want it tied up for several months (or even years!) while the criminal case is resolved. Also, if you are putting up cash bail for someone else and they skip town, you lose that money. A bondsman, on the other hand, will have at least 6 months to get the defendant back to court and get the bond out of forfeiture.
How much do I need to pay a bail bondsman?
The amount a bondsman can charge to bail someone out is set by state law. Specifically, NRS 697.300 states that a bail bondsman in Nevada must charge 15 percent of the total bond amount for his services. Many bondsmen will agree to take some significant percentage down and allow the client to make payments for the balance, but bondsmen in Nevada can't charge more than 15 percent (and technically they are not legally allowed to take less). So for a $10,000 total bail, you owe the bond company $1,500.
You will pay a little more than 15%, however, because there are other, smaller fees that get tacked on when you bail out. NRS 697.300 allows a bail bondsman to charge the client for several different services, including notary fees and travel expenses. These fees are usually minor compared to the premium you pay for the bond itself.
Additionally, a bondsman can (and will) require that the client provide collateral. Collateral is property that guarantees the bond amount. So when you bail out, you pay the bondsman 15% but you are also agreeing to reimburse the bondsman if he loses money on the deal by having to forfeit the bond.
To elaborate on this a little, when you contract with a bondsman, you pay your 15%, and the bondsman promises the courts he will deliver the defendant or forfeit the bond amount. But the bondsman also makes a contract with the defendant (or whatever third party is bailing him out) that the bondsman can pursue legal action to recover any forfeited bond amount. So essentially, when you help bail someone out, you're paying 15% and agreeing to pay all the rest if the bondsman has to forfeit the bond.
How is bail set?
Bail is set in court by the judge based on a number of factors, but it usually takes at least 72 hours (3 business days) to get into court if you don't bail out before this first court appearance. So while you are waiting for your first court appearance, you have the option of paying "standard bail." Standard bail is set as soon as you get booked into jail. It's based entirely upon the charges the arresting officer chose to book you into jail on. If you get booked into CCDC, you will see these charges (along with the standard bail for each) on your "Temporary Custody Record." For example, let's say you get arrested in Las Vegas and booked into CCDC on charges of possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell (a category D felony). Standard bail for this felony charge is $5,000. You now have two basic options. You can either wait until the first court appearance (which takes several days) or you can bail out. If you wait until your 72 hour hearing, it may be that the District Attorney does not have a complaint ready and you may be ordered released. But you will wait at least 3 business days in jail. This means weekends don't count. The premium on a $5,000 total bail is $750. No small amount to pay for someone else's mistake, but I can almost guarantee that the person you bail you will think it was worth the money.
Can the bondsman arrest me if I don't pay?
Yes, in some instances. A bondsman's promise to the court is that he will make sure the defendant shows up when and where he's supposed to or the bondsman forfeits the full amount of the bond—usually several thousand dollars. The contract that you make with a bondsman when he bails you out of jail is that you won't give the bondsman any reason to believe that he's going to lose his money (like not returning phone calls, missing court dates, etc.). So if you don't pay or get a bench warrant or pick up new charges, the bondsman will be within his rights to put you in cuffs and deliver you back to jail. When the bondsman arrests you (for a good reason) and delivers you back to jail, he is "surrendering" the bond and is no longer liable to pay the bond amount. If this happens, now you have to bail out all over again.
To avoid getting arrested for non-payment (or any other reason), you should make sure your criminal defense lawyer gets the bond "exonerated" as soon as possible. When a bond is exonerated, it no longer exists. The defendant can't be arrested and the bondsman can't be forced to pay the court. In many instances, the court won't exonerate the bond until dismissal of the charges or sentencing (because in both cases, the case is essentially over). Other courts will exonerate the bond at the initial appearance, sometimes automatically but other times only if the attorney asks. Why would the court consider exonerating a bond if the case isn't over? The court usually only does this if the court would have considered giving the defendant an own recognizance release (release from custody without paying any bail at all) had the defendant not bailed out of jail sooner.
If the bond is exonerated, do I still need to pay the bondsman?
Yes. Once the bond is exonerated, the bondsman can no longer arrest the person he bailed out for non-payment (or any other reason). However, whoever signed up as a guarantor is still legally liable through contract law to pay the premium and any fees, and the collateral is still subject to be taken.
Will I be arrested by the bondsman if I miss a court date?
Not necessarily. If you miss a court date and end up getting a bench warrant, the bond will "go into forfeiture." What this means is that the court will send the bondsman a notice informing him that the defendant no-showed, and the bond is now subject to forfeiture if he doesn't get the defendant back to court (or back to jail) within six months. People miss court dates for all different sorts of reasons, from health problems to simply forgetting the date. If you talk to your bondsman, he will most likely not arrest you and surrender the bond if you communicate with him and get the case back on calendar to quash the bench warrant (and take the bond out of forfeiture). Ask your defense attorney to help you with this. If you don't have a defense attorney, you should consider hiring one, but if that's not an option, you can place the matter on calendar yourself if you go to the court clerk's office.
Can you recommend a bail bondsman to use in Las Vegas?
I can recommend one of several bail bondsmen in the Las Vegas or Clark County area. Keep in mind, though, it may benefit you to contact several bail bondsmen to see who you are most comfortable with. Call me if you would like to discuss this issue further.
Hopefully I answered some of your questions regarding the bail system in Las Vegas. If you have more questions, feel free to contact me.