Bail bondsmen have been in the news lately for a number of scandalous reasons -- one was accused of exchanging his bond services not for money, but for sex, while another has been charged with extorting money and services from clients. However, despite these stories, the bail bonds business is heavily regulated, and bail bondsmen are subject to rigorous background screening and other protective measures. Read on to learn more about the ethical laws and regulations that govern the business of bail bonds.
What does a bail bondsman do?
A bail bondsman, or bail agent, is responsible for certifying to a court that a defendant will return for his or her trial date and any other follow-up court dates at which his or her presence is needed. When a defendant is arrested and charged with a crime, the court will usually set bail. Bail is the amount the defendant must pay in order to be released from jail pending trial.
The bail amount set by the court is generally higher than the amount of cash most defendants or their families have immediately available. This is where the bail agent enters the picture. In exchange for a nonrefundable fee (usually 10 percent of the total bail ordered by the court), the bail agent will post bail on the defendant's behalf. The bail agent may also require some other collateral in addition to this fee, such as the title to a house, car, or other property owned. If the defendant fails to return to his or her next court date after posting bail, the bail amount posted by the bail agent is forfeited. The bail agent will usually make an attempt to find the defendant to secure his or her presence in court, and will also take title of whatever collateral was posted.
Because the court places a great deal of trust in the bail agent -- allowing an accused defendant to go free until his or her next court appearance after making bail arrangements -- the bail agent must have a clean criminal history and must abide by certain ethical standards throughout his or her career.
How can someone become a bail agent?
The process for becoming a licensed bail agent varies from state to state, although there are some common factors. In general, to become a bail agent, you must have a clean criminal background. While minor misdemeanors or juvenile offenses may be permissible, felonies or crimes of dishonesty (burglary, robbery, or theft) will nearly always automatically disqualify you from service.
After you've completed your background check, you must take a required training course and pass a certification test provided by your state's Department of Insurance. Only after passing this test may you be issued a license to provide bail bonds.
What ethical standards are required in order to be a bail agent?
After a bail agent has jumped all the licensing hoops, there is still a code of ethics by which he or she must abide. The Professional Bail Agents of the United States (PBUS), the professional organization that represents U.S. bail agents, has a model Code of Ethics which is widely used by bail agents in all 50 states. This Code of Ethics includes sections on the following topics:
- Fully disclosing to defendants the consequences of failing to appear for a court date;
- Promptly notifying the court and other parties if the defendant has absconded or will not appear for his or her court date;
- Avoiding the unauthorized practice of law;
- Keeping private any confidential information shared by the defendant; and
- Avoiding any appearance of impropriety that would harm the reputation of the bail agent business.
If the allegations against the bail agents mentioned above are proven to be true, these unscrupulous actions certainly violated the PBUS Code of Ethics and brought harm to the reputation of the bail business. Despite these bad apples, most bail agents do their best to assist both the criminal defendants in need of their services, as well as the courts in dispensing justice. Read on for more about this topic.