Thursday, July 25, 2013

Non-refundable Fees: Why seen as objectionable for a bail bond?

Payment of non-refundable fees for services rendered is nothing new.  Landlords charge non-refundable fees in the form of security deposits, cleaning fees and pet fees.  There are non-refundable application fees and costs associated with lending of loans and mortgages.  Non-refundable fees are charged for student applications to colleges and universities, which is used to defray various administrative costs.  Many airline fares are non-fundable.  There are non-refundable trip insurance fees.  In the criminal justice system, Courts charge non-refundable filing fees for various licenses, documents or court services.  Attorneys charge non-refundable fees for legal services rendered, which are separate from other court costs or compensatory and punitive damages.   Such fees are just the cost of doing business.

So why should bail agents, who also charge a non-fundable fee for services rendered, be seen any differently than the examples above?  Does the guarantee of appearance at court and the financial accountability a bail agent assumes have no value?  Would the taxpayers be better served by assuming this responsibility rather than a private industry that has been proven to be the most effective and efficient means of pretrial release?  Where is the public uproar and deluge of news articles regarding non-refundable fees outside of the bail industry?

Bail agents across the country release from jail on average 250,000 defendants each month, resulting in a significant impact on jail operational expenses and taxpayer savings.  The non-refundable fee, or premium, is the cost of assuming the risk of appearance for a defendant.  This non-refundable fee must cover all expenses, insurance costs and fugitive recovery fees if necessary, and is good for the life of the bond.  This non-refundable fee is usually ten percent of the total bond for a bail agent to accept financial responsibility for court appearance. 

A defendant also has the right to post a full cash bond directly with the court, which often has a non-refundable fee tacked-on as well, and at the conclusion of the case if all court appearances were made, will get some of the money returned less court costs and fines.  Unsecured financial bail is a promise to appear and upon failure to do so, the defendant is obligated to pay the full amount of the bond to the court.  Cash deposit bail also requires a defendant to post ten percent of the total bond – but to the court instead of a bail agent.  If the defendant makes all required court appearances and at the conclusion of their case, the court is mandated to return this deposit to the defendant less court costs and fines. 

But what happens when a defendant fails to appear for court under a ten percent deposit system or other unsecured release methods?  Taxpayers are left on the hook to fund law enforcement to find the defendant and bring them back to jail vs. a private bail agent assuming this task.  When a defendant fails to appear on a commercial bail bond, the bail agent and the surety company underwriting the bond must pay the full amount of the bond to the court if the defendant is not found and returned within a specified amount of time. 

In Florida, the bail premium, or non-refundable fee, is $100 or ten percent of the total bail amount, whichever is greater.  For example, if the bail set is $10,000.00, the premium charged would be $1,000.00.  If the bail set is $250.00, the premium charged would be $100.00.  Florida Statute 648.33 states it is unlawful for a bail bond agent to execute a bail bond without charging a premium and the premium rate may not exceed or be less than the premium rate as filed with and approved by the Legislature.

Opponents of the commercial bail industry claim that once this non-refundable fee is paid to the bail agent, a defendant has no incentive to come to court because they know they won’t get any of their money back.  This is blatantly false. 

In a study released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, their analysis showed that defendants released on a commercial bail bond were less likely to miss a court appearance and become fugitives than defendants released on any other means.  A recent research study conducted by Dr. Robert Morris, Associate Professor of Criminology and Director for the Center for Crime and Justice Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas, found the same results.  His analysis suggested that net of other effects (e.g., criminal history, age, indigence, etc.), defendants released via commercial bonds were least likely to fail to appear in court compared to any other specific mechanism.  This finding was consistent when assessed for all charge categories combined and when the data were stratified by felony and misdemeanor offenses, respectively.

Why is commercial bail so successful in holding defendants accountable for failure to appear?

Bail agents continually assess the risk of a defendant to influence a positive outcome.  They often require defendants to have regular check-ins, take detailed information on a defendant’s community ties and residency, provide court reminders and maintain contact with indemnitors to help ensure the defendant is adhering to the court’s conditions.  Bail agents can devote the time necessary to make sure pursuits are successful for defendants who have failed to appear as law enforcement are over-burdened and often give failures to appear a low priority.  Commercial bail is also successful because of its many layers of financial commitments and the involvement of third-party indemnitors, whose financial resources were used to bail the defendant out of jail.  Specifically, bail is user-funded.  Critical tax dollars are saved by a private entity doing what it does best – guaranteeing the appearance of a defendant in court.

So when we hear opponents of commercial bail state to the public and members of state legislatures that our citizens don’t need, nor should they care about allowing for an effective system of release and accountability in the criminal justice system, we have to wonder what their motives are.  Bail agents live and work in the same communities they release defendants into and therefore take the issue of public safety very seriously.  The tired argument that bail agents only care about “profit margins” is what it seems – just a tired argument.


  1. Great article about bail. Spot on.

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  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Have you or your loved one been arrested or is there a warrant for their arrest?  They are now behind bars or will be soon. You can hire a professional bail bond service, they make it possible for all defendants to be able to afford to get out of jail.

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  7. Great article which explains the reasons why there are non-refunable fees even for No Collateral Signature Bond.

    There are expenses and costs which bondsman have to pay and they take risks on defendants every day that once in a while go sour and end up costing the bail bonds service money out of pocket.

    This article does a great job of explaining and obviously the writer knows a lot about bail bonds and how to present that information in an intelligent way.

    Thank you!