When criminal defendants are released from prison, some are “bonded out” while others are “bailed out.” If you consume enough criminal news, the two terms start to look interchangeable, as though they both mean the same thing.
While they both have the same effect — temporary freedom — they’re actually different. The difference between bond and bail is a subtle one, but it ultimately comes down to the source of the money. Who and what is securing the defendant’s freedom?
As you likely know, bail is the monetary amount a defendant must pay to secure his release. If he fails to appear at a specified time, he forfeits that amount.
If the defendant or his family pays bail, he’s been bailed out of jail. But many criminal defendants don’t have the funds to make bail. This is where bonds come in.
Bonds are bail monies paid by a bail bond company. The defendant secures a loan with collateral, such as a car or house. He also pays a set fee, usually 10% of the bail amount.
The bail bondsman then pays the court a portion of the bail monies and guarantees that the rest will be paid if the defendant disappears. Courts accept this as assurance because the defendant loses his property if he flees.
Some states will also allow defendants to post their own property bond, which allows them to avoid using a bail bond company.
There’s also this strange thing called a signature bond. The defendant makes a written promise to appear in court. If he fails to appear, he pays the court a set amount of money. This is reserved for low-level offenders who pose no flight risk.
So you see, there is a difference between bond and bail. Defendants who immediately secure their release with money are bailed out. Defendants who secure their release with collateral (property or a promise to pay) are bonded out.