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Understanding Zimmerman's $150,000 Bail Bond

Monday, April 23, 2012

bail signFor most of us, the criminal justice system is a mystery.  Almost everyday, we see news stories about judges setting bail and people getting out of jail.  Most recently the country has been caught up in the Trayvon Martin/Zimmerman case and the recent decision to set his bail at $150,000.  So what does that really mean?  We thought we would explain it in simple terms so we could all understand. 

First, the judge in the case is the one that first determines if Zimmerman in eligible for bail, and if so how much.  To answer the first question around eligibility for bail, the judge determines if he is a risk to the public.  In other words, if released will Zimmerman harm others in the community.  In order to do that, the judge looks at the seriousness of the charge, as well as Zimmerman's past record.  The judge also hears testimony from both parties. 

Once the judge determined that Zimmerman was eligible for bail, he then must set the amount. The amount is set according to what the judge feels is the amount that best incentivizes Zimmerman to show up for court.  In other words, how much is too much for Zimmerman and his family to lose if he doesn’t show up for court.  Additionally, how much is enough to ensure that those who are tied to the bail bond (family, friends and bail agent), will do what they need to, to ensure that Zimmerman shows up for all court appearances until the case is fully adjudicated. 

Once that amount is determined, in this case $150,000, now enter the bail bondsman. The bail bondsman is pretty much just like an insurance agent.  They sell an insurance policy, a bail bond that guarantees a defendant's (Zimmerman's) appearance in court.  If Zimmerman doesn’t appear then the policy goes into default and the bail bondsman owes the court the full amount of the bond.  People will use bail bondsman because rarely do they have enough cash to post the bond themselves.  A bail bondsman covers the full amount of your bond and charges you a non-refundable premium of 10%.  So Zimmerman's family could have put up $150,000 cash with the court to secure his release. Instead they decided to use a bail bondsman and pay a $15,000 premium.  It is now the responsibility of the bail bondsman and Zimmerman's friends and family who indemnified (or vouched for him) the bond to make sure he shows up for court.  If he doesn't the bail bondsman and family are responsible for the full amount of the bond...$150,000. 

Hopefully, that helps everyone in understanding how the process works.

Written by: Eric Granof