The Price for Freedom: Bail in the City of L.A.

In California, all persons facing criminal charges are guaranteed the right to freedom before trial, except in a few cases. But there is a price for that freedom. Across the state, the money bail system requires many people to pay for pretrial release. When a person, or their representative, pays money bail up front and in full, the money is refunded so long as the person charged with a crime shows up for all of their court proceedings. But most people eligible for money bail cannot afford to pay the total sum up front.1 Instead, most people eligible for money bail are left with one of two options. The first is to stay in jail until the conclusion of their court proceedings, which can take weeks, months, or even years. The second is to contract with a bail bond agent who provides a surety bond to the court on their behalf. The surety bond operates like a promissory note: the bail bond company does not pay up front but, rather, promises to pay the full bail money amount if the accused fails to appear in court. For this service, a bail bond agent requires the arrested person, or their representative, to pay a nonrefundable deposit, typically amounting to 10% of the total bail amount.

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