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There are almost 15,000 bail bondsmen currently working in the United States. With almost $14 billion in bond turnover per year, there is ample room in this profession to specialize in a variety of bail agent careers. The most common differentiation is one that most of the public recognizes but many state governments commonly group together. In many states, bail bondsman and bail recovery agents—popularly known as bounty hunters—are classified under the same title of bail agent, even though they perform different services. Bail bondsmen provide the funds necessary to release a criminal offender prior to their trial; this is usually secured by property collateral or a co-signer. Bail recovery agents are usually responsible for tracking down, arresting and returning a fugitive defendant for their court date.
Within the bail bondsman profession, the easiest way to differentiate among these financial managers is to examine the types of bonds that they provide. Just as there are a wide variety of crimes that individuals can be charged with, there are a variety of types of bonds that can facilitate a pre-trial release. These include surety bonds, federal bonds, and immigration bonds. These types of bonds usually involve different levels of financial risk and bail bondsmen who issue the most common types of bonds may not provide higher risk bonds.
General Bail Bondsman
The bail bondsman that is commonly portrayed in the media is the surety bail bondsman. This type of bondsman is licensed by state governments to provide bail bonds for defendants who are accused of one of a wide variety of crimes ranging from driving citations up to capital murder. In return for a guarantee that the offender will appear in court, the surety bail bondsman puts up the money for the entire bail amount. In most states, surety bail bondsmen are allowed to ask for a percentage of the bail amount as the fee for issuing the bond. This percentage can range from ten to 20 percent depending on state laws.
Like other financial professionals who provide loans or bonds, bail bondsmen jobs involve ascertaining whether a potential client should be issued a bond. The most common way to earn a bail bond is to provide some sort of security like real estate or valuable property, or to have a co-signer who will guarantee the defendant will appear for their court date.
Although this may appear to be a risky financial profession, in some jurisdictions around the country, the risk to bail bondsmen is minimal. In these jurisdictions, if a defendant fails to appear for their trial, the bail bondsman does not forfeit the full bail amount, but may only be required to forfeit a small percentage—in some states as little as five percent.
Bail bonds that are issued to defendants charged with federal crimes are designated as federal bonds. Unlike the more common surety bonds, federal bail bonds not only guarantee that a defendant will appear for a court date, but that they will also comply with all pre-trial conditions. These conditions may include regular drug testing, restricted travel or limited business activities. Should the defendant fail to meet any of these conditions, the entire bail amount could be forfeited.
There are relatively few bail bondsmen who will issue federal bonds because there is the added risk that a defendant will fail the terms of their pre-trial release. In order to secure this type of bond, most defendants must produce collateral to secure the loan. In most cases, the fees for a federal loan are significantly higher than those for a comparable surety bail bond. Bail bondsmen who engage in this type of business must usually become familiar with the federal court system in addition to state laws.
Immigration bonds are a type of federal bond that is required to secure release from an immigration detention facility. Bond recipients are usually in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a federal agency, but may be held in local or county jails. Immigration bonds are considered by the bail industry as higher risk bonds because immigrants have fewer ties to the community and are more likely to flee rather than face imprisonment or deportation. There are fewer bondsmen who are willing to engage in this type of bail business because of the increased financial risks. Bail bondsmen who issue immigration bonds typically compensate for this added risk by charging a higher fee, in some cases five percent more than on comparable surety bonds.