A common question we hear when someone posts bail is, “Will I get my money back after court?”

The answer is usually yes — bail money is refunded after the trial if you’ve followed the court’s instructions and attended all required hearings, irrespective of the verdict. But there’s a catch: if you used a bail bondsman, their fee isn’t returned.

We’ll cover some of the specifics of bail in California below, and as always, if you or someone you know is facing criminal charges, speaking with a defense attorney is an excellent idea. Your attorney can advise you on the specifics of your case and help you get back to your life as quickly as possible.

How does bail work?

After someone is arrested, they will processed and may have a bail hearing, where the court decides the conditions of release pending trial. They can be released on their “own recognizance” without paying anything if the court determines:

  • They are not a flight risk,
  • Pose no threat to the community,
  • And are likely to comply with all court-mandated conditions.

In other cases, the court will set a bail amount. Bail acts as a financial guarantee that the defendant will comply with all of the court’s orders and attend all future court appearances if they are released. Two of the most common types of bail are cash bail and bail bonds.

How cash bail refunds work in California

With cash bail, either the defendant or someone on their behalf would have paid the entire bail amount directly to the court or the arresting agency. Once all court orders have been followed, including attendance at all court dates, the cash bail becomes fully refundable.

However, the refunded amount may not match the sum you initially paid. Any unpaid court fees, court costs or criminal penalties will be deducted before the refund is issued. Despite these deductions, the remaining balance is usually returned to the payer within 2 to 3 months.

Bail bond refunds and premiums

Cash bail can pose a significant financial strain as it requires payment of the full bail amount upfront.

Bail bonds are a more accessible option for those who can’t afford the full bail amount. In this situation, a bail bondsman levies a premium, usually about 10% of the bail amount, to post bail for the defendant. This non-refundable premium serves as payment for their service and the risk they undertake.

In addition to the premium, bail bondsmen may also require collateral that they can claim if the defendant skips bail. Once the non-refundable premium is paid, the bail bond agreement, which can be considered a type of surety bonds, is formalized. If the defendant fulfills all court requirements, the full bail amount is returned to the bail bondsman, not to the person who paid the premium.

Even if the defendant fulfills all court requirements, the premium paid to the bail bondsman is not refundable. Instead, the full bail amount is returned to the bail bondsman, not the person who paid the premium.

Meeting court obligations for bail refunds

To qualify for a bail refund, the defendant must be present at all required court appearances. The bail money, minus any applicable court fees or penalties, is returned to the individual who posted it after the defendant complies with all court appearances and bail conditions.

Once bail is exonerated, which happens after all court mandates are met, collateral is released, and any liens on property bonds are removed.

If you are unable to attend a scheduled court appearance, it’s crucial to immediately communicate with legal representation and a bail bond agent to possibly reschedule and avoid forfeiting your bail.

Consequences of failing to appear in court

Failing to appear in court can have serious consequences. If the defendant fails to appear, forfeiture of the full bail amount occurs, including any property or collateral put up in exchange for release. Failing to appear can also lead to additional legal charges, with potential consequences including fines, further penalties and potentially even imprisonment on charges directly related to the failure to appear.

If the defendant fails to appear, the court may issue an arrest warrant, and bail bondsmen are given a grace period to return the defendant to custody or risk paying the entire bail amount.

Working with a reputable bail bondsman

If you choose to go the bail bond route, it’s important to work with a reputable bail bondsman. A reputable bail bondsman should:

  • Provide transparency about their fees and collateral requirements
  • Clearly explain your responsibilities and obligations regarding the bail contract
  • Offer 24/7 availability to address any emergencies or issues promptly throughout the bail process
  • Have resources and experience to provide flexible financial options, like payment plans, tailored to your ability to pay the bail bond premium upfront.

Legal outcomes can influence your bail money refunds. If the defendant is found not guilty, the cash bail is usually returned, minus any court fees. If the case is dismissed or charges are dropped, bail money is returned, but a portion may be used to cover court fees, restitution or fines. In these situations, getting your bail money back can be a relief for the defendant and their family.

After a guilty verdict, the bail refund process usually remains unchanged, provided all court appearances and conditions have been met, although court fees may be deducted. Regardless of the verdict, guilty or not, court fees, restitution or fines may be deducted from the bail money before its return.

In the end, as long as you fulfill your court obligations, your bail money and collateral will be released after your case concludes.

If you or someone you know needs help navigating a specific legal situation, attorney Robert M. Helfend of the Helfend Law Group is here to help. Call today at 800-834-6434 for a free case review.

Published March 15, 2023.