How Does Bail Work?Anyone who grew up suffering through marathon Monopoly games with their siblings (while one player invariably stole $20s from the bank) likely knows a thing or two about bail. But if you or someone you love find yourself in need of bail money – perhaps for stealing from an actual bank – you do not want to rely on knowledge gleaned from board games. You need the advice of an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney.

What is bail?

Starting with the basics, bail is a sum of money paid to the court to secure the conditional release of a person who has been arrested. It is a financial guarantee that, if released from jail, the arrested person will show up for all required court appearances.

Once bail has been paid, or “posted” as it is commonly known, the court holds on to the bail until all court proceedings are complete. At that point, if the arrested person has successfully met all of the conditions of the bail, the bail is returned to whomever posted it.

Is bail always cash?

No. Cash bail is just one type of bail. Sometimes referred to as “cash bond,” in a criminal case it may be posted by the defendant, another individual, or a private surety such as a bail bond company.

In Maryland, bail can be paid in a few different ways, including with:

  • Property – Maryland allows defendants to use property in the form of a home or land to post bail. To do so, the net equity in the property must meet or exceed the bail amount. Posting property can get complicated, as tax bills, assessment notices, copies of the deed and other public records must be provided. Additionally, everyone whose name appears on the tax bill must sign the form, unless power of attorney is used to authorize another’s signature.
  • Intangible assets – A clerk of the court may accept intangible assets such as:
    • Letters of credit from a bank
    • Bankbooks and certificates of deposit, accepted at 100% of stated value
    • Certificates for stocks listed on the American Stock Exchange or New York Stock Exchange, accepted at 75% of the current exchange quotation


  • Credit and debit cards – In some instances, bail may be charged to a credit or debit card. The card and valid personal identification must be presented in person when posting bail. An independent company will process the charge and may charge a service fee.
  • Professional bail bondsperson – If a defendant does not have enough cash, credit, or property to put down for bail, they may buy a bond from a bail bondsperson. In this scenario, the defendant pays a percentage of the bail – such as 10% — plus a non-refundable fee, and the bail bondsperson puts up the rest of the money. In doing this, the bail bondsperson takes on the financial risk if the defendant jumps bail. A word to the wise: Do not jump bail. In addition to the courts, you will also have a very unhappy bail bondsperson (and their “friends”) looking for you.

Who decides the amount of bail?

The amount of bail – or if bail will even be permitted based on the crime and circumstances – is determined by the judge. This typically occurs at your first court hearing which may be an arraignment or a bail hearing. It is worth noting that the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits bail from being “excessive,” so at least you have that going for you.

Judges usually take a variety of factors into consideration when setting bail, such as:

  • Type of crime – Bail will typically be set higher for serious and / or violent crimes. If the crime involved violence, bail may not be set at all.
  • Suspect’s criminal history – Bail may be set lower for a first-time offender and higher for a repeat offender.
  • Suspect’s ties to the community – If a suspect is not from the area or does not have strong connections within the community where the crime is being prosecuted, they may be considered a flight risk. On the other hand, someone who lives or works in the town or who has family there is less likely to skip town instead of showing up in court.

I was arrested and am out on bail. What happens if I don’t show up for court?

Missing a required court appearance is never a good idea, but it’s an especially bad idea to skip court while out on bail.

If you fail to show up for all required court appearances – or if you violate any other conditions of your bail, such as being arrested again while out on bail – the court may revoke bail. A bench warrant will be issued for your arrest and you will have to return to jail and forfeit your bail. This means that you, or the unfortunate person who put up the money on your behalf, will not receive a refund of the bail money.

However, if you have a valid reason for missing a court appearance, the court may decide that forfeiture of bail is not necessary. This is a big maybe.

Can a lawyer help with bail?

Possibly. A skilled Annapolis criminal defense lawyer can argue that you deserve bail, and can ask the court to reduce the amount of bail and set conditions that are more favorable for you. While there are no guarantees, your odds are typically greatly improved by having legal counsel arguing on your behalf. An attorney can also explain the terms of your bail, ensuring you understand what is expected of you and what you are agreeing to in exchange for your freedom while you await trial.

Under Maryland law, anyone arrested is supposed to go before a judge within 24 hours. If you or someone you care about is arrested, there’s no time to waste. Your first call – even before posting bail – should always be to an experienced Annapolis criminal defense lawyer. I’ve been defending clients in state and federal court throughout Maryland for more than 20 years, and there isn’t much I haven’t seen. Being arrested and charged with a crime can be scary – whether or not it’s your first offense. I can help. I’ll walk you through everything and fight to get you the best outcome possible.

Contact my office – Drew Cochran, Attorney at Law – in Annapolis or Ellicott City by calling 410-271-1892 or completing this form.

And remember – Keep Calm, and Call Drew.