New York City Bail and Bail Bonds
Table of Contents
- What is bail?
- What is a bail bond?
- New York New York Criminal Court Arraignment Process
- How will I know what the bail is by watching the arraignment?
- In what ways can bail be paid?
- Where can I post bail?
- What about putting up a piece of property?
- What if the judge sets cash only bail?
- Should you bail someone out?
- How much is bail going to be?
- What is a bail sufficiency (or surety) hearing?
- How will the judge decide bail? (From the "Process" Page of this site)
Cash bail is simply the amount of cash that you must present to any jail in New York City (24 hours a day) in order to obtain the release of the accused while his case progresses. The good news is, that as long as the accused makes all of his court appearances, you will get all (or nearly all) of your money back. The city, never missing an opportunity to capture some revenue, keeps a piece of the action. (The keeping of this small percentage of the bail has actually been challenged in court, but upheld by the United States Supreme Court).
A bail bond is a promise by a special company like an insurance company to pay the city the amount of the bond if the accused fails to come back to court. When a bail bond company agrees to post a bond for an accused, they are agreeing to guarantee his presence in court.
The good news with a bail bond is that bail bond companies are often times willing to post substantial bail bonds for people for far less than 100 % of the bond. In fact, most bail bondsmen will write bonds for about 10% of the value of the bond. For example, if the bond is written for $15,000, you could probably find a bondsman who would only charge you about $1500. They will typically require, however, that you post additional cash for them to hold, and will require that a number of people guarantee to reimburse them if the accused fails to return and they lose the bond amount.
The bad news with a bail bond, is that, unlike with cash bail, you will not get the money you put down back. The money you give the bail bondsman is the fee he charges to write the bond. You will get back any additional security the bondsman requires, but that fee is gone forever.
Where can I find a New York Bail Bondsman?
Other New York Bail Bondsmen can be found usually in offices nearby the local criminal courthouses.
How will I know what the bail is at the arraignment?
Toward the end of the arraignment, after the prosecutor and the defense lawyer have made their arguments, the judge may say a few words and then finish with the phrase (or something like it) "Bail is $2500 over $1500" or "$2500 A or B". This is the most typical way of setting bail.
The two types of bail the judge is referring to are the two most common forms of bail -- cash or insurance company bail bond (or more simply bail bond).
In what ways can bail be paid?
According to the Department of Corrections web site: the New York City Department of Corrections will accept the following forms of cash bail:
United States cash for the full amount Cashier's/Tellers' checks, in any amount not greater than the bail amount Bank money order, up to $1000 Federal Express money order, up to $1000 U.S. Postal money order, up to $1000 Travelers Express Company money order, up to $1000 Western Union money order, up to $1000 Check issued by the city Finance Administrator for a bail refund. (There is no $1000 maximum but the check must not exceed the amount of the new bail.) Veterans Administration Check up to $1000 U.S. Government checks, up to $1,000 Cash in combination with any of the above for the total amount of the bail
NOTE: The $1000 limits noted above apply to an individual instrument only. They are not meant to prohibit multiple instruments. For example, the City will accept FIVE bank money orders for $1000 each in payment for a $5000 bail. The total of the checks, however, must not exceed the amount of the bail.
Where can I post cash bail to get someone out?
According to the Department of Corrections web site:
Checks or money orders meeting the requirements listed above can be presented at any Department of Corrections jail, regardless where the inmate is housed, provided they are made out to the jail at which they are presented.
For example, bail can be posted at Queens House of Detention for an inmate being housed at Rikers Island.
Only the jail named on the check/money order can accept them in payment of the bail. Checks or money orders made out to the Department of Correction or to a jail other than the one at which they are presented will not be accepted.
The person posting bail must present personal identification and must provide the New York State Identification (NYSID) Number of the person to be bailed. (Be sure to get this information from the attorney who handles the arraignment).
What about putting up a piece of property?
Another form of bail can involve presenting a piece of property to the city to hold until the case is resolved. This form of bail usually comes up in cases in which the bail is extraordinarily high. Typically, it will not be initially set at the arraignment, but will be requested by an attorney by way of writ or negotiation with the prosecutor and consent of a judge.
Posting property with the city in this way can sound tempting because it seems like a way to avoid the fees for a bail bond. It is also tempting to believe that posting property will be as simple as showing a deed. In fact, this form of bail is rarely used, in part because the formula applied by the law to determine whether a piece of property can support a particular bail is complicated and weighted heavily AGAINST qualification. From experience, I can tell you it is difficult even finding a clerk who is truly versed in the details of the procedures involved in posting a property for bail.
If you are considering trying to use a piece of property with the city for bail, consult with your lawyer, who will need to take you through the formula involved. You will need to know the "assessed" value of your house (that strange value the city uses to figure out your taxes). Discuss this with your lawyer.
What if the judge sets cash only bail?
Judges usually set two forms of bail at arraignment. There is some authority that judges are required to set at least two forms of bail at arraignment, although many judges these days disagree and will set CASH ONLY bail.
If the judge at arraignments sets CASH ONLY bail, then the only way to bail out the accused is to post the full amount of the bail with the city. If the judge sets CASH ONLY bail, then you cannot go to a bail bondsman to get the accused out of jail. Because the law is fairly clear that CASH ONLY bail is usually improper, a lawyer can take a writ of habeas corpus and essentially "appeal" the setting of only one form of bail. Writs in these circumstances are often successful, but represent a delay of 1 to 3 days or more before they can be heard.
When judges set a bond amount as well as a cash amount, you will often find that the bond amount is significantly higher than the cash amount. That's because judges are aware of how bail bonds work. They know that bail bondsmen will write bonds for considerably less up front than the full amount of the bond. Therefore, many judges will set the bond amount at a level where the amount of the cash alternative will be about the amount a bail bondsman would require anyway.
For example, if the cash bail amount is $5000, the bond amount that would be set might be between $10,000 and $15,000. Although the bond fee might be considerably less than $5000, most bondsmen would probably want about $5000 in cash to hold until the conclusion of the case.
Should you bail someone out?
The first principle, before all others, is that you probably ought to make bail or bond for someone you care about who is in jail as soon as possible.
This may sound obvious, but there are circumstances when friends and family members may be angry at the accused for having gotten himself into a bad situation, probably against the advice of friends or family to begin with. Occasionally friends and family may be under the mistaken impression that delaying the bail-out process will teach some kind of lesson.
Well-meaning frustrated parents often fall into the trap of "It might wake him up to spend some time in jail". Parents who want to teach with tough love are probably better off bailing the child out and attempting just about anything else to teach the child a lesson. Drive him up to the top of a tall mountain and make him hike home with a 50 pound backpack. Jail is a horrible brutal incredibly dangerous place.
General Guideline to govern this situation: FEW LESSONS WORTH LEARNING WERE EVER LEARNED IN JAIL.
How much is bail going to be?
This is a difficult question because the amount of bail on a given case can vary widely from judge to judge or depend simply on the judge's mood on a particular day. Nevertheless, there are certain very broad, very general rules of thumb.
Please do not hold us to these estimates. Please realize that we are attempting to help with information, not guarantee particular outcomes in specific cases. If the bail in a particular case varies significantly from the estimates that follow, please do not take this to mean that the bail set was illegal, excessive, too little, or evidence that the judge was wrong.
That being said, there are certain general guidelines that can be expected.
Misdemeanor Case General Guidelines
Range = $0 - $5000 : With some exceptions, first arrest misdemeanor cases can probably bet on a much lower range with a fairly decent expectation of $0 or ROR. For those with prior criminal histories, it is still possible to obtain ROR but it becomes increasingly unlikely as the number of prior cases increases. Bail beyond $5000 for a misdemeanor is extremely rare. If you want to be prepared to make bail right at the arraignment immediately, and you can afford it, you might want to have $1500 in cash available (assuming you are comfortable carrying this amount of money in court). That should be sufficient to handle most circumstances where the charges are solely misdemeanors.
Felony Case General Guidelines
Felonies are more difficult to suggest general guidelines because some felonies are far more serious than others.
For the most serious felonies, (A felonies) judges oftentimes refuse to set any bail at all. This is called REMAND. Occasionally judges can be convinced to set some bail on such cases, but it will be astonishingly high (for example, $250,000). Most of the time, however, judges simply REMAND people accused of A felonies.
Judges can occasionally be convinced to release people charged with less serious felonies without any bail at all or on what might be considered "misdemeanor" bail.
Robbery and Assault (felony) cases will often generate bail in the range of $1500 - $25,000 or more depending on the seriousness of the robbery, and the defendant's age and prior criminal history.
Realize that anyone with a prior felony criminal history who is charged with a new felony is almost certainly going to have significant bail set (meaning a likely range of $3500 - $25,000+)
What is a bail sufficiency hearing?
A bail sufficiency hearing or surety hearing is something you might hear (typically in drug or fraud cases) the judge say at the conclusion of the arraignment when he sets bail.
That will add an extra layer or two of difficulty to getting the person out of jail. That means that before the city will accept bail for the accused, there must be a hearing (or the prosecutors must informally agree) to make sure that the money being used has a legitimate source.
The idea of the bail sufficiency hearing was developed to respond to the fear that large scale drug dealers would simply use their illegal profits to obtain release from custody. Of course the prosecutors have taken the bail sufficiency hearing and bled its use into other areas and types of cases.
What will happen is that the person who wants to make the bail will be required to show that the money came from a legitimate source (for example, that he has a job, assets, and/or bank accounts that would reasonably exist for someone engaged in a legitimate activity). The person who shows up with a garbage bag full of $100,000 cash who is unemployed and unable to explain how he got the money is likely going to be out of luck at such a hearing. These hearings are usually something that can be avoided after negotiations with the prosecutor.