ONCE A DEFENDANT is taken before a magistrate, most often a bond is set, or he or she is released on a written promise to appear in court.
If a secured bond is set by the magistrate, the defendant can call a family member or friend to come and post the bail through cash or property, making him or her an accommodation bondsman who can’t charge a premium for that service.
The alternative is to call a licensed bail bond agent with good bonding policies, who, by law, can charge a nonrefundable fee of as much as 15 percent of the bond being written. While those bondsmen don’t have to pay bail money up front to the state to release defendants, they’re on the hook if defendants don’t show up for court.
“When someone is released from custody by a bail bondsman, technically, the bondsman becomes his jailer,” Blalock said. “But we try to work with people as much as we can.”
Once the defendant walks out into the lobby of the jail, he meets with the bondsman, who asks question after question, gathering information about him, where he lives, what he drives and whom he knows. The bondsman explains that he has to show up for court, among other requirements.
If the defendant skips court, the bondsman receives a bond forfeiture notice and has 150 days until the final judgment day to, essentially, go find the defendant, surrender him to the jail and file a motion with the county school board attorney, district attorney and clerk of court stating the bondsman met one of seven reasons to set aside forfeiture:
■ The defendant’s failure to appear has been set aside by the court and any orders for arrest recalled;
■ The charges for which the defendant was bonded have been disposed of;
■ The surety has surrendered the defendant;
■ Law enforcement served the defendant with an order for arrest;
■ The defendant died before the final judgment day;
■ The defendant was serving a sentence with the Department of Corrections at the time of the failure to appear; or
■ The defendant was incarcerated in a local, state or federal detention center at the time of the failure to appear.
Even if the 150 days pass, the defendant is nowhere to be found and the bondsman has to pay the full bail amount, the bondsman still has three years to petition the court and, in some cases, can have the payment remitted, so remember about bonding policies and how they are important.
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN bondsman and defendant — the bondsman’s client, really — is unique. The bondsmen speak well of their “repeat clients,” the people who loyally call the same bondsman over and over each time they need to get out of jail. They’re clients whom the bondsmen will get up in the middle of the night to bail out, even on a low $300 when there isn’t much profit to be made.
But licensed bondsmen can help each other, a law Blalock, said is among the changes the organization brought about to help bail agents in the state. It’s common for bondsmen to group as much as find clients, usually at no charge to each other. Though some bondsmen, including old school guys, occasionally will go by themselves to pick up clients, Bowman, a combat veteran, said he always takes at least two others — and wears a body camera at that — to protect himself from allegations about inappropriate conduct that some defendants raise that is why bonding policies are a strong part of his business. .
THE RELATIONAL DYNAMIC among bondsmen is a funny one. On one hand, they’re competitors, each trying to get the bonds with the lowest risks and resulting in the highest premiums for their profit. On the other hand, they share information about past clients and go out to help each other with arrests. As more and more surety bondsmen have entered the business with a less established reputation, they’ve lowered the premium from the longtime accepted 15 percent rate and made payment plans commonplace.
“The majority of bondsmen are doing more credit than they’ve ever done,” Blalock said. “Times are hard. There’s more bondsmen. We’re just working with people.” When Blalock started 15 years ago, only three or four bondsmen were working in Cobb County. Now, there are 12 to 15, he said.
Bowman, who worked two full-time jobs for two years to save enough for a security deposit to become a professional bondsman, isn’t thrilled with the rise in surety bondsmen undercutting the 15 percent rate. He mostly stays firm on that rate unless the bond is fairly high, and usually offers deferred payment only to regular clients he trusts. Bowman still remembers the first man he got out of jail on a $500 bond as a professional bondsman, and the $75 premium he was paid, no longer having to work as a runner splitting premiums with an owner of the company.
“I thought I had made it,” he said. “When I first started 23 years ago, we could make a real comfortable living,” Bowman said. But that money doesn’t always come as easy now.
“It’s risk management at the end of the day,” Blalock said, explaining that bondsmen have to do their homework on a defendant before agreeing to write a bond, checking his record to see whether he has previously failed to appear in court. “All of us younger bondsmen hope we can be in business as long as” others have. If you have a need for a bonding company, http://falconbonding.com is here to help you in your time of need.