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How Do Federal Bail and Bonds Work? What to Expect After an Arrest

By Spodek Law Group | October 19, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 20, 2023)

Last Updated on: 20th October 2023, 09:30 am


How Do Federal Bail and Bonds Work? What to Expect After an Arrest

Getting arrested can be scary and confusing. Most people don’t know much about how bail works or what to expect after being arrested. This article will explain bail bonds, how much bail costs, what factors affect bail, and what happens after you get arrested so you can be prepared.

What is Bail?

When someone gets arrested, they are taken into police custody. The purpose of bail is to allow the defendant to be released until their trial. The court sets a bail amount as collateral to make sure the defendant shows up for their court hearings and trial.

If the defendant can pay the bail amount, they can get out of jail while waiting for their trial. The bail money is returned after the trial is over, as long as they didn’t miss any court dates.

If the defendant can’t afford to pay the full bail amount, they can use a bail bondsman. The bondsman will pay the bail amount for a fee, usually 10% of the full bail amount. This allows the defendant to get out of jail without paying the full amount.

How Much Does Bail Cost?

Bail amounts vary greatly depending on the crime. For minor offenses like petty theft or traffic violations, bail might be a couple hundred dollars. For more serious federal offenses like drug trafficking, bail can be $100,000 or more.

Federal judges consider these factors when setting bail:

  • Severity of the crime
  • Defendant’s criminal history and likelihood to reoffend
  • Safety of the community
  • Probability the defendant will flee before trial
  • Defendant’s financial resources

More serious crimes equal higher bail amounts. Defendants with long criminal histories or a high risk of fleeing also get higher bail. Wealthy defendants may get higher bail because they can afford it.

Can Bail Be Denied?

Yes, judges can deny bail and keep defendants in jail until the trial in certain circumstances. Bail can be denied for defendants charged with capital crimes like murder, or if the judge decides the defendant is a flight risk or a danger to the community.

The 8th Amendment prohibits excessive bail amounts. But it doesn’t guarantee everyone gets bail. So denying bail is constitutional in some cases.

What is a Bail Bond?

A bail bond allows a defendant to pay a portion of the bail amount through a bail bondsman. The bondsman charges a nonrefundable fee, usually 10% of the bail amount. The bondsman also requires collateral like a house or car to cover the rest of the bail if the defendant disappears.

Bail bondsmen are licensed and regulated in each state. They have agreements with the local courts to pay bail amounts for defendants. Their fee and collateral requirements vary.

Here’s how bail bonds work:

  1. The court sets your bail amount, say $20,000.
  2. You pay a bail bondsman 10% of that amount, so $2,000.
  3. The bondsman pays the $20,000 bail to release you from jail.
  4. You get your trial date and must appear in court.
  5. If you attend all court dates, the bondsman returns your $2,000 fee after the trial.
  6. If you miss court, the bondsman will hunt you down to recover the $20,000 bail.

Bail bonds are a good option if you can’t afford to pay the full bail amount. But the bondsman may require collateral and can come after you if you miss court dates.

What Happens at the Initial Appearance?

After getting arrested, you’ll be brought before a judge within 24 hours for an initial or arraignment hearing. This first court appearance has three main parts:

  1. Charges Read: The judge reads the charges against you and confirms you understand them.
  2. Bail Set or Denied: The judge decides whether to set bail and how much, or denies bail. Factors like flight risk and danger to the community are considered.
  3. Plea Entered: You enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. Pleas can be changed later.

This initial hearing is usually quick, taking less than an hour. You’ll just learn the charges and bail amount. More complex issues are handled at later hearings.

What Happens at the Detention Hearing?

If bail was denied at your first court appearance, the judge will schedule a detention hearing within 3-5 days. This is your chance to argue for bail by presenting evidence you’re not a flight risk or danger.

The prosecution will argue why you should stay detained. They’ll present evidence of your criminal history, connections to criminals, or threats you’ve made.

The judge then decides whether to grant bail or order you detained until trial. Detention hearings take 1-2 hours usually.

What is the Difference Between State and Federal Bail?

Each state has its own bail and bond laws. But federal bail laws apply to federal crimes tried in federal courts. Here are some key differences:

  • State bail is covered by state constitutions and statutes. Federal bail follows the Bail Reform Act.
  • Federal crimes like drug trafficking often have higher bail amounts.
  • Federal judges may consider national security risks when setting bail.
  • Most states have banned commercial bail bonding. But bonding is still allowed in federal court.

While federal bail laws are generally more stringent, the bail process works similarly at both levels. But for federal crimes, federal bail laws override state laws.

What Happens at a Bail Hearing?

If you can’t pay the initial bail set, you can request a bail hearing and ask for the amount to be reduced. Your attorney will argue for lower bail by presenting evidence you:

  • Have strong family and community ties
  • Have steady employment
  • Have no prior missed court appearances
  • Are not a flight risk or danger

The judge will then decide whether to reduce the bail amount based on the evidence. They may also consider alternatives like electronic monitoring. Bail hearings take about an hour.

What are Common Bail Hearing Outcomes?

There are a few possible outcomes from a bail hearing:

  • Bail Lowered – The judge agrees to reduce bail to an amount you can afford.
  • Bail Denied – Bail is denied and you remain in detention until your trial.
  • House Arrest – You are released with electronic monitoring like an ankle bracelet.
  • Released on Own Recognizance – You are released without bail under an agreement to return for trial.

The bail hearing gives you a chance to get bail reduced or argue for alternatives to detention. But the judge still has discretion and may deny bail depending on the charges.

Can I Get Bail Reduced a Second Time?

If bail was lowered once but is still too high, you can request another bail hearing. But judges are less likely to reduce bail a second time unless circumstances have changed significantly.

Your attorney will need new evidence for a second bail hearing, like:

  • You lost your job and have less income
  • New health issues make jail dangerous for you
  • Another person is now willing to act as your bail custodian

The judge may become frustrated at repeated requests to reduce bail. So a second bail hearing is not guaranteed and should have strong justification.

Are There Alternatives to Cash Bail?

Many jurisdictions now offer alternatives to cash bail, including:

  • Unsecured Bonds – The defendant pays only if they miss court.
  • Pretrial Monitoring – Electronic monitoring is used instead of jail.
  • Pretrial Services – Defendants get supervision and reminders about court dates.

These options avoid penalizing poor defendants who can’t afford bail. Advocates say cash bail should only be used for high-risk defendants.

But critics argue eliminating cash bail leads to more defendants missing court and reoffending. The debate over cash bail vs. alternatives continues in many states.


The bail system allows pretrial release for defendants who can pay. But it penalizes those without money. Understanding the bail process helps you prepare for getting arrested.

Key takeaways include:

  • Bail amounts vary greatly based on the crime and other factors.
  • Bondsmen let you pay 10% of bail through a fee.
  • Initial hearings set bail and take pleas.
  • Detention hearings decide ongoing detention.
  • Federal bail laws are generally more strict than states.

Knowing what to expect with bail, bonds, and hearings reduces stress if you get arrested. And reaching out to a bondsman and attorney early can help get you released faster.


Cornell Law School. (n.d.). Eighth Amendment. Legal Information Institute. https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/eighth_amendment

Cornell Law School. (n.d.). Rule 46. Release from Custody; Supervising Detention. Legal Information Institute. https://www.law.cornell.edu/rules/frcrmp/rule_46

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