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No Payment Terms for Criminals Some Say

Six months same as cash, twelve easy installments, you can buy just about anything on a payment plan.  Why should bail bonds be any different?

Just last week I received my quarterly statement for my life insurance policy (being a surety rep has it’s risks).  I suppose I could pay my annual premium all at once.  From a cash management standpoint, quarterly payments are preferred.  The same goes for the payments on my car, house, homeowners insurance and cable TV.  So why do some judges, prosecutors and legislators have a problem with bail agents allowing criminal defendants or their family members to pay off the premium balance over time?

Newspapers in Maryland, New Jersey and South Carolina recently ran articles and editorials on the subject of bail agents extending credit to their clients.  That this was a bad thing.  It circumvents the courts authority because it makes it easier for defendants to obtain bond and be released from jail pending trial.

The express purpose of bail is to guarantee a defendant appears in court at all times required until the case is adjudicated.  The amount of bail is set based on a defendant’s risk of flight.  The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says bail shall not be excessive.  There is no mention of how bond premiums are to be paid.

Once bail is set a defendant has a minimum of two options.  Post the full amount of the bond in cash with the court or pay a bondsmen ten percent of the bond and the bond will provide a financial guarantee for the full amount of bail.  If they don’t have sufficient cash on hand they can borrow the money from the bank at eleven percent interest or they can pay a bail agent a ten percent premium to guarantee the full amount of the bond.  The bank would set up a payment plan so why should a bail agent be prohibited from doing the same?

When someone is arrested they will invariably require the services of a bail and a criminal attorney.  It’s common knowledge criminal attorneys extend payments terms to their clients.  How has this inexcusable practice escaped scrutiny by the newspapers? 

So where is the concern?  If a judge sets a risk appropriate bail amount why would they be concerned about how the defendant or their representatives pay for a bail bond provided the surety guaranteeing the bond is deemed sufficient?  After all, the premium is not the guarantee; the bond provides the financial guarantee.

Have the premium plan police found a correlation between the percentage of those defendants who bond out on payment terms and the percentage of defendants who fail to appear for court or commit a new crime?  I’m not familiar with that study, if one exists.

Personally, I would like to see all bail agents receive their full premium prior to posting a bond.  Who wouldn’t?  Premium payments are a direct result of competitive forces.  Someone’s marketing strategy.  Once one agency extends payments the rest or forced to do the same.

Some bail agent’s do get a little carried away with their payment plans.  Zero down, one percent down?  There are reasonable payments and then there are giveaways.  What marketing strategy promotes the assumption of financial risk without even minimal payment?  In the words of Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, “Don’t get stuck on stupid”.

Some court officials believe the answer is to replace bail agents by hiring more county employees to managed defendants released from jail pretrial.  Currently bail agents assume all the financial risk and operate at zero expense to the taxpayers.  If the court enters the bail bond business the taxpayer inherits the cost of administering the program and law enforcement inherits the added bourdon of spending valuable time serving warrants for failure to appear.  Time better served protecting the public.

The upside to allowing payment terms on bail bond premiums is it makes it affordable for anyone to post bond provided they have family or friends willing to cosign their bond.  If defendants are able to make bond it keeps the jail population down, which saves the taxpayers money on housing and medical costs.  The bail agent gets the defendant to court allowing justice and victims of crime to be served all at no cost to taxpayers.

Does the current bail bond system need tweaking with respect to how bond premiums are paid?  Perhaps.  Requiring a minimum down payment is not a terrible idea.  That said if the bail bond is valid and the full guarantee is in place, I’m not sure the court should be concerned about whether or not the bail agent gets paid.  The bail profession should address this issue and find a workable solution because asking the taxpayers to put out a shingle is certainly not the answer.