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How to Bail Someone Out of Jail: Guide and FAQ

Someone handing a stack of cash to a judge to bail their friend out of jail.

Being arrested is something that most people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about until it happens. Knowing how to bail someone out of jail is a life skill that makes things a lot easier if the unthinkable happens to you or a loved one. Although court systems differ significantly among state, federal, and local courts, certain aspects of the system are similar across the board.

Arrest, Detention, and Fast-Track Bail

A person can be arrested if law enforcement sees them commit a crime or suspects they are involved in criminal activity. Once a person is arrested, they are detained and taken to a law enforcement facility.

In some jurisdictions, there is a set amount of bail for certain low-level crimes (generally misdemeanors and traffic offenses). If that’s the case, figuring out how to bail someone out of jail is a fairly streamlined process. Consult the jurisdiction’s website, or speak with the detaining agency to find out how to deposit the required funds and secure the arrestee’s release.

What Is an Arraignment?

If paying bail immediately isn’t an option, the arrested individual will be held at a jail or other facility until they can present their case to a court. Most jurisdictions require law enforcement to submit an arrested person to a court within a certain period to face formal charges.

It is generally illegal to detain people indefinitely without charging them with a crime, but this hearing may not occur until the court’s regular business hours. Some jurisdictions hold these hearings during evening and weekend sessions, but others do not; federal courts hold an initial court hearing on the day someone is arrested, or the next day.

This first court hearing is usually called an ‘arraignment.’ Attorneys for the prosecuting authority (the state, county, municipality, or federal district) will formally present the criminal charges. The arrested person becomes a “defendant” and must appear in court to face the charges against them in subsequent proceedings.

How to Bail Someone Out of Jail After Arraignment

In many cases, the judge decides at arraignment what terms are appropriate to guarantee the defendant returns to court to stand trial. In some cases, defendants are released “on their own recognizance,” which means the court lets them out of jail, schedules their next appearance, and trusts their promise to return. (If they do not return, the court will issue a bench warrant for their arrest, take them into custody, and impose additional penalties and fines.)

In other cases, a judge determines that there is too high a chance that a defendant will flee or refuse to appear. In that case, a defendant will be ‘remanded‘ to jail to await trial.

“Bail” is an amount of money deposited with the court to ensure a defendant’s return. Once bail is arranged, the defendant is released from custody, although there also may be other conditions (such as remaining within a specific area or wearing an electronic monitoring device). If a defendant returns for subsequent court hearings as scheduled, most of the bail money is refunded.

How Does “Bond” Work?

The simplest way to “post bail” is to deposit the full bail amount with the court clerk. This is called a “cash bond.” Although most jurisdictions require this to be paid in cash or via cashier’s check, some now use third party services that allow you to use a debit or credit card.

However, most defendants don’t have the total amount of cash immediately available to them to post bail. Knowing how to bail someone out of jail using a “bail bondsman” can help solve this problem.

A bail bond service is a private company that guarantees the total amount of bail without requiring full payment upfront. The purchaser pays a percentage to the bondsman, who pays the entire amount to the court so the defendant can be released. This is called a “surety bond.” If the defendant appears in court as promised, the bond service keeps just the percentage as a fee; if the defendant does not appear, the bond service attempts to recover the bond balance (plus fines and fees) from the defendant’s representative.

To obtain a bail bond, the purchaser must assure the bondsman that they will be able to pay the whole amount if the defendant does not appear. This involves depositing money, property, or other collateral to guarantee the bond.

How to Bail Someone Out of Jail Without a Bond Service

Some states do not allow private bail bond companies, including Illinois, Oregon, Kentucky, and Wisconsin. Instead, a defendant’s representative may post a bond for a percentage of the bail amount directly with the court. If the defendant appears as scheduled, the court returns the bond amount (less a percentage as a fee). The process is essentially the same as using a bail bondsman, but the fees are significantly lower.

Can You Bail Yourself Out of Jail?

In today’s modern, tap-to-pay economy, you may wonder if you can just hand over a debit card and bail yourself out of jail without involving your loved ones. You are certainly allowed to post your own cash bond if you can do so on the spot.

However, since most people don’t carry significant sums of cash, and most courts require bail to be paid via cash or cashier’s check, it is usually necessary to coordinate with someone to get money and bring it to the station. But, if your jurisdiction uses a third-party payment service, you may be able to pay using a credit or debit card at a kiosk in the station.

Arrested? Contact an Attorney Immediately

Hopefully, you’ll never need to put your knowledge of how to bail someone out of jail to use. If you do, however, it’s a good idea to contact an attorney. If you or a loved one are facing criminal charges, find out more about your options today.


This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. The Law Dictionary is not a law firm, and this page does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

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