To begin with, and I know this sounds simple, but don’t panic. Just take a deep breath and move through the following steps.
First, determine what county your loved one was arrested in. This is important because no matter what agency made the arrest, your loved one will eventually end up in a county jail; there are no city jails, only county jails. When you know what county they are in, look up the county jail phone number and keep it with you. You will be using that number a lot.
Second, call the county jail and verify that they have your loved one in custody. Often the folks answering the phone do not yet have an updated list of new arrestees, so you may have to call back several times. It pays to be patient and treat the folks answering the phone politely.
Third, if you can, find out from the jail staff what the exact charges are and then what the bond amount is. The bond will be an amount of money that will need to be pledged to the county before your loved one will be released from jail. Many times, the bond amount will not be known until your loved one sees a special judge at the jail known as a magistrate. In those cases, the magistrate will set the bond and unfortunately, you’ll simply have to wait until that happens before they can be released. Some larger counties have magistrate judges available 24 hours a day to process newly-arrested people. However, some smaller counties only have magistrate judges available at certain times, and if the arrest happens outside of those times, you could be in for a longer wait. Again, until your loved one is brought before the magistrate judge, they cannot be released.
When you do find out the bail bond amount, the next question is how to pay it. There are two, and depending on the county, possibly three ways to pay that bond and get your loved one out of jail: a cash bond, a surety bond, and an attorney bond. Let’s talk about each.
What is a cash bond? This is simply a bond where you pay the entire amount to the county jail yourself. When the case is completely finished some week, months, or even years later, you will get all of your money back minus a small handling fee. It’s called a cash bond but really you can pay with cash, a cashier’s check or a money order. A county will not likely take a personal check from you, so be prepared. For the exact steps to pay the cash bond in a particular county, contact that county jail.
What if you don’t have the money to pay 100% of the bond amount as a cash bond? Well, that is what a bail bond company is for: posting a surety bond. A bail bond company will charge you a percentage of the total bond amount, say 10% – 15%, and they will pledge the rest of the bail amount to the county with a surety bond. That percentage that you pay to the bail bond company will NOT be returned to you when the case is over, as it is essentially the fee for their service of getting your loved one out without you having to pay 100% of the bail amount. A good bail bond company in the county that your loved one is jailed in will likely be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and can handle all financial transactions over the phone or electronically.
In some counties, but not all, there is a third option: an attorney bond. Here, an attorney acts as your bondsman. You pay them a fee and they will get your loved one out of jail. Again, many counties do not allow for attorney bonds. Check with the county jail to see if that county does or does not.
Ultimately, until your loved one has 1) seen the magistrate judge in jail AND 2) had their bond paid either as a cash, surety, or attorney bond, only then can the jail begin the process of finally releasing your loved one. Depending on the county, some jails are simply faster and more efficient at processing people in and out of jail. What may take an hour in one county may stretch out to an entire half-day someplace else. It can be a frustrating process, but by arming yourself with some knowledge about how and why the system works like it does, it doesn’t have to be a giant mystery.