[PHOTO CREDITS: iStock / zimmytws]
[Original Publish Date: 01/12/20]
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Unless you’ve been arrested yourself, or have bailed someone out of jail, you may not know how the process works. Recently, Lake Legal News reported on a man who skipped court and nearly cost a local bondsman more than $180,000 — and so we wanted to take a deeper look.
When someone is accused of a crime, arrested and taken into custody, a bond will be granted in almost every case — although there are a few exceptions, including violations of probation and capital crimes, such as first degree murder or capital sexual battery — says Tim Altman of Altman Bail Bonds in Tavares.
Bond is important in most cases for several reasons, Altman tells LLN. An arrest does not mean you are guilty, just that there is probable cause that you may later be found guilty. “We make sure the accused have the presumption of innocence and are able to assist with their defense, along with providing accountability to the courts for our defendant’s appearance,” Altman explains. (Bondsmen also help keep jails from becoming overcrowded.)
A “cash” bond can be paid on a defendant, but often that is not an option because most people do not have enough available cash to make that happen. That is where a bondsman comes in. When a bail bondsman is used to get a defendant out of jail, usually the obligor (co-signor) pays 10 percent of the bond amount as a fee for the bondsman – and that is only a fee. For that fee, the bondsman guarantees the defendant will show up for court. However, the original obligor is still responsible for 100 percent of the bond amount if the defendant skips.
Because most bonds do involve a co-signor, Altman believes that same fact also encourages defendants to answer to their charges and do the right thing. “We have ties to someone else; most people won’t disappoint their mama or grandma,” Altman has concluded.
“We ensure the majority of our clients show up to court,’ says Altman, a 22-year veteran of the industry. “We are the third party to the defendant’s arrest.” Defendants who are out on bond are far more likely to show up for court than defendants who are released on their own recognizance (ROR), Altman tells LLN.
A board member of the Florida Bail Agents Association, Altman estimates he spends 7 to 10 hours a week making calls to his clients reminding them of court dates and checking up on them. He often plays the role of a counselor with many of his clients. “They call us because we answer,” he notes. “They can’t call their attorney because the attorney is not readily available to take calls. We’re available to them if they need us.”
Altman says while he does have repeat clients, it’s usually first-time arrestees he bonds out. “We help families navigate a system they’ve never been in. We help them as much as we can.”
Being released on bail or ROR can affect the taxpayers as well. If a defendant who was released ROR is charged with an extraditable offense skips court and is found out of the county, the expenses related to the extradition fall on the taxpayer; but if that defendant was bonded out, the extradition expenses must be paid by the bondsman, Altman explains.
Altman tells LLN that when a defendant is ROR, there is no accountability. “There’s no one to fall back on if the defendant skips. It’s basically a taxpayer-funded release. When courtrooms are empty, justice isn’t being served.”
There is always a chance a defendant may skip, but a bondsman is added security that won’t happen, Altman says. The bondsman’s money and livelihood is on the line, so they hold their clients accountable to their responsibilities.
When a defendant does skip, the clock starts ticking. “They put us on the clock for 60 days,” says Altman. If the defendant is not found within 60 days, the bondsman is responsible for paying the forfeiture to the court. The money to pay the forfeiture usually comes from build-up funds. Florida Statute 648.29 states: “Build-up funds are maintained as a trust fund created on behalf of a bail bond agent or bond agency, held by the insurer in a fiduciary capacity to be used to indemnify the insurer for losses and any other agreed-upon costs related to a bail bond executed by the agent.”
Those funds belong to the agent and upon the release of all liabilities, such as when the bondsman retires, the funds are due back to the bondsman or agency.
The bondsman can recover the forfeiture money several ways. The easiest and best way is to find the defendant and bring him or her into custody, but that must be done quickly. A bondsman only has 90 days to produce the defendant in order to get all of the forfeiture money back. After 90 days, the amount shrinks and at the end of two years, none of the money can be recovered, even if the defendant is brought into custody.
[Read the related headline article here: https://www.lakelegalnews.com/article/bail-jumper-recaptured-just-hours-ago-bondsmans-180000-was-on-the-line/ ]
Our Editor-in-Chief, Marilyn M. Aciego, began writing for Lake Legal News in 2010. Born and raised in Lake County, she is a graduate of Umatilla High School and Lake-Sumter State College. She started her journalism career at LSSC, where she was editor of both student publications, The Angler and The Odyssey. Her professional career began at the Daily Commercial in 2004 where she covered cops and courts the majority of her time there until she left in 2009. Currently, along with being Editor-in-Chief of Lake Legal News, she is the Florida bureau chief for an international media organization. She has made more than two dozen appearances on live national television, including Nancy Grace and the Greta Van Susteren show, along with her appearance on Evil Twins. Contact her with breaking news, tips, and feedback by sending an e-mail to 352Tips@gmail.com. You can also contact us on our Facebook page — and make sure you “Like” and “Follow us” there. [PHOTO CREDIT: Bonnie Whicher]