When is bail set?

At the arraignment of an individual arrested for a crime. An arraignment typically occurs within 24 hours of an individual’s arrest. An attorney may or may not be present.

It is important to be prepared for an arraignment. This includes knowing potentially how much money the individual who is in custody and his or her family can collectively gather for bail. An arraignment can have significant consequences on an individual’s defense, so please keep reading.

Can I request an alternative to money bail?

Yes. There are alternatives to bail, such as supervised release or being released on your “own recognizance.”

Individuals accused of crimes regularly request these alternatives at arraignments. This is often available for individuals without criminal histories or with histories of attending their scheduled court appearances.

What happens if the individual arrested for a crime cannot post bail?

The individual is held at a correctional facility until bail is paid or he or she is released. It is important to try to post bail or secure a bond! Detained defendants - those unable to post bail or bond - are 3x more likely to be sentenced to prison than defendants released pending trial.

A 2013 study commissioned by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) found that, compared to defendants who are released pending trial, defendants who are detained pre-trial are three times more likely to be sentenced to prison and often for longer prison sentences. A defendant who is forced to spend a few weeks in jail may lose wages and sometimes even her/his job. For these reasons, it is important to push for affordable, accessible bail terms or an alternative to money bail.

How much money do I have to pay for bail?

Bail is set by a judge at an arraignment hearing and can come in various forms. What an individual arrested for a crime has to pay often depends on the form of payments ordered by the judge.

Judges more often than not order cash or surety bond as forms of bail. As a result, it is important to know how much money the individual who is in custody can pay - collectively through his or her support network - in advance of a judge’s bail determination at an arraignment.

Can I pay by credit card?

Yes, but not always. Individuals arrested for crimes successfully request for and pay bail by credit card.

It is possible that judges will set credit card bail higher than cash bail, although we have seen criminal defense attorneys persuade judges not to do so. Also note that some jurisdictions charge a small fee for using credit cards, but like cash bail, the amount charged to a credit card is returned (minus any administrative fees) when the defendant appears at all scheduled hearings.

I am a family member or friend of an individual who is in custody. Can I help post the cash bail or bond to the court?

Yes. Individuals arrested for crimes are encouraged to reach out to their support networks to help pay bail if necessary.

The most efficient way for a family member or friend to help post bail is to come prepared to an individual’s arraignment. Defense attorneys frequently use the presence of family members or friends to help persuade the court to release the individual who is in custody. A defense attorney can also help you navigate how and where to pay the bail money.

What is the purpose of bail?

Bail is the amount of money a defendant must pay to the court to secure his or her release from jail while awaiting trial.

Bail is about release. It is set by a judge at an arraignment and is paid by an individual accused of a crime and/or his or her support network so that the individual who is in custody can be released from jail pending trial or disposition.

What is the difference between bail and bond?

Bail is the amount of money given to a court by an individual accused of a crime so that the individual can be released until the trial, at which time the money is returned.

A bond is a loan from a bail bond company to an individual accused of a crime, and is paid by the bail bondsman to the court in place of the cash money the defendant needed to pay.

In other words, bail is money paid directly to the court by an individual accused of a crime or his or her family and friends. With a bond, the bail bondsman pays the court a portion of the bail amount for a fee and guarantees the rest will be paid if the individual accused of a crime does not appear.

So, bond is effectively a loan from the bail bond company to the individual accused of a crime. This means the individual (or his or her family and friends) must secure the loan with collateral, such as a car or a house, which is forfeited if the individual accused of a crime does not appear in court. The individual needing the bond also pays the bondsman a set fee, called the premium. This fee is typically 10% of the posted bail amount. Some states, including Illinois, do not permit commercial bail bondsmen. In these states, the individuals accused of a crime can sometimes pay the premium on a bond directly to the court, without having to post the full cash bail amount.

It is common for judges to set cash bail at 10% of the requested bond amount.

Note: when engaging a bail bond company, it is important to carefully read the contract and understand what you are agreeing to by signing. Often the payer must agree to help find the individual accused of a crime if he or she fails to make a scheduled court appearance.

When do I pay bail?


An immediate payment of bail during arraignment can prevent being transferred to jail.

Where do I pay bail?

Bail is often paid at the court (usually when the individual accused of a crime is also at court) or at the correctional facility where the individual is being held.

The bail­-paying process differs based on the location of payment. Families and friends most commonly pay bail at the courthouse immediately following an individual’s arraignment.

Important note for Detroit-area persons: Arraignments in your court may occur without an attorney present, so it is important for you and your family to understand the process fully before appearing in court.

How do I pay bail?

You may be able to pay bail at the courthouse, directly after the arraignment. Check with defense counsel, the court officer or the court clerk to find where and how to pay. If the individual accused of a crime is detained at a correctional facility, the person paying bail must typically visit the on-site payment facility. Check with the appropriate department of corrections to determine location and hours.

  • If you are a member of an individual’s support network and are attending the arraignment​, go to the courtroom where the case is being heard. Find the defense attorney (if one is present), the court officer, or the court clerk, and immediately tell them that you are paying bail and the individual for whom you are paying. You may also be able to schedule a court call to dial into the arraignment if you are unable to attend in person.
  • If you plan to pay at the correctional facility, contact the department of corrections and visit the location where bail can be paid. Most jurisdictions will post hours and location online.
  • Note that bail must be paid in the exact amount of required money. Paying bail in cash is often the most economical form of payment.
  • Can I pay with a cash substitute?

    It depends on the facility. Payments often can be made in personal and cashier's checks and money orders. Some facilities accept credit or debit cards, but many of these charge an additional processing fee. It is important to ask someone at your local facility what forms of payments are acceptable and what the fees are!

    Can I help if I can’t attend the arraignment in person?

    You can still help! Usually you can transfer money to an individual’s correctional account so that he or she can pay. Contact the court where the defendant’s case is being heard for more details!

    What happens if an individual accused of a crime shows up for all of his or her court appearances?

    Bail monies are refunded, usually minus an administrative fee imposed by the court.