Written by our Subject Matter Experts, on Sept. 21, 2019
Before you co-sign on a bail bond, you should make yourself aware of what it means to be a cosigner, as well as the liabilities, risk, and requirements that come with co-signing. Our bail experts have compiled everything you need to know, dealing with important items like who can cosign, what application requirements are necessary, how bail forfeiture can impact you, how long you are tied to the bail bond, and when your collateral will finally be freed.
- What is co-signing on a bail bond?
- Who can co-sign on a bail bond?
- Bail bond co-signer application requirements
- What risk do I take on as a co-signer on a bail bond?
- What is bail bond forfeiture?
- How long am I a co-signer on the bail bond?
- Can a co-signer revoke or be removed from a bail bond?
- When do I get my collateral back if I co-signed on a bail bond?
- Bail bond without a co-signer
What is co-signing on a bail bond?
A bail bondsman will almost always require a defendant to have one or more co-signers on their bond. For many bondsmen, the co-signer is just as important as the 10% bail bond premium that they will collect from the bond.
The reason a co-signer is so important is that a co-signer is an indemnitor. An indemnitor is someone who assumes the responsibility, the risk, and the potential costs related to apprehending the defendant if they fail to appear in court.
Even when someone has their own money to pay for their bond, a bondsman will most likely require the defendant to find one or more co-signers to sign the bond as an added assurance that the defendant will appear in court.
Who can co-sign on a bail bond?
Co-signers are usually relatives, close friends, business partners, employers, or spouses. Some bondsmen are stricter than others when it comes to selecting a co-signer. Most bondsman require that the co-signer have a full-time job or own real property in the same state as where the bond is being posted.
Some bondsman, but not all, don’t like to use girlfriends or boyfriends as co-signers, because in the event of a break-up, it can cause all sorts of problems for the parties involved. However, this is not a policy carried by all bondsman across the board.
Bail bond co-signer application requirements
As a co-signer, what should you bring with you to meet all application requirements? If you agree to co-sign on someone’s bond, you should always bring a valid identification card or driver’s license.
Other items often required from co-signers include:
- Proof of employment (usually 2 or more consecutive pay-stubs; paper or electronic)
- Proof of ownership (not always required, but if a bondsman wants to see the deed to property or a vehicle title, you should bring it with you)
- Picture I.D. (as stated before)
- Form of payment for the bail bond premium (cash, credit card, or any other arrangement)
- Collateral (only if any collateral was required or requested by the bail bondsman)
What risk do I take on as a co-signer on a bail bond?
A co-signer is an indemnitor. An indemnitor is someone who assumes the risk associated with the bond, and must later indemnify, or cover, the parties that lose out when a defendant doesn’t appear for court.
Indemnify means “to make whole again.” That means if a defendant skips court on a $2,500 bond, the co-signer, or indemnitor, will have to make the courts “whole again” by paying the full bond amount of $2,500 on the defendant’s behalf.
As a co-signer on a bail bond, you are assuming the risk that the court is taking by allowing the defendant to go free while awaiting trial. Because this can be a high level of risk, many bail bondsmen require reliable and responsible co-signers for each bond.
What is bail bond forfeiture?
A bail bond can be placed into forfeiture when a defendant fails to appear at a required court date. When this happens, a “show-cause” is issued by that court and is served or mailed to the defendant, the bail bondsman, and sometimes the co-signer. This show-cause document will provide a single court date for all of these parties to attend.
The purpose of a show-cause hearing is to have the defendant, bondsman, or co-signer have a chance to show cause, if any exists, as to why the bond amount shouldn’t be forfeited. If the bail bondsman or his agents have apprehended the defendant and surrendered him into the custody of the jail, then the bond will not be forfeited.
If the defendant is still a fugitive, the bond will go into forfeiture and each party will be given a certain period of time (typically around 150 days) to locate the defendant or have them turn themselves in, before the bond amount will be due. This is why it is in the best interests of the co-signer to help the bail bondsman and his bail enforcement agents locate the fugitive if the co-signer knows how to find them or knows someone who does.
How long am I a co-signer on the bail bond?
As a co-signer your responsibility lasts until the entirety of the court case, and any appeals of that case, are finished. This means the bond is in effect until a final disposition is reached.
A commonly asked question is whether a co-signer is responsible for the defendant making all of their court dates, or just the first court date that is listed on the defendant’s release papers. As stated above, a co-signer is responsible for the defendant’s appearance at all of the necessary dates until the case is completed, including any appeals.
Can a co-signer revoke or be removed from a bail bond?
In some cases, yes, a co-signer can ask to be removed from a bail bond early if certain criteria are met or bond conditions are broken. The criteria are up to each particular bondsman and no single rule applies.
Most bondsmen will require the co-signer to pay an early cancellation fee and will require the defendant to find a replacement co-signer of equal standing. A co-signer can also be required to pay for any bounty hunting fees that are accrued in the apprehension of the defendant.
When do I get my collateral back if I co-signed on a bail bond?
If you set aside collateral with a bail bonding agency during the pendency of a trial, there are regulations set by each state that regulate when the collateral shall be returned.
For example, in North Carolina, collateral must be returned within 15 days after the exoneration of the case, regardless of the outcome of the case. The 15-day window is set because every defendant has 10 days to appeal his case after a verdict is reached.
If the bondsman returned the collateral too soon and the defendant decided to appeal the case, then the bondsman would have given up his primary form of “insurance” against the possibility of a failure to appear by the defendant.
Collateral must be returned much sooner if the bond is revoked and the bondsman or his agents put the defendant back in jail. As an example, in North Carolina, if a defendant is surrendered back to jail prior to the final outcome of his case, collateral must be returned within 72 hours.
Since the bondsman has been exonerated from the bond, he has no further use for the collateral and is required to return it as quickly as possible.
Bail bond without a co-signer
When working with a bail bondsman, it’s very rare that a co-signer will not be required. Two options to consider that don’t require a co-signer are: 1) Release on Own Recognizance, and 2) Personal Property and Collateral.
If the judge believes you are a low flight risk, and you had a minor charge, you may have the option to be released on Own Recognizance (OR) or Personal Recognizance (PR). You won’t need to pay a fee and you simply sign documents promising to appear for your court cases, plus any other stipulations set by the judge.
The second option involves personal property to be used as collateral. Some bondsmen will bail you out if you had a minor charge, and if they can see that you have a history of holding a stable job, a reliable income stream, and personal collateral to help them cover the bail amount in case you skip bail or run into issues attending court dates. This option is rare but is technically possible if you show proof of having enough assets in your name that can be used to cover any risks the bondsman takes on.
A bounty hunter is hired by a bail bondsman to locate and arrest a person who does not show to court as agreed in their bail bond agreement. Bounty hunters are sometimes referred to as bail recovery agents.
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