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What is Bond Forfeiture?

By Charity Delich
Updated May 16, 2024
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In some countries, a criminal defendant is permitted to post a bail bond in exchange for being released while his or her court case is pending. A bail bond company or an individual generally posts the bond and thereby agrees to pay a certain amount of money if the defendant fails to appear at a scheduled court date. A bond forfeiture occurs when the defendant doesn’t show up in court, and the company or person who put up the bond must pay the defendant’s outstanding bail amount. A forfeited bond becomes the property of the jurisdiction overseeing the case, and it cannot be refunded.

If a defendant has been released on a bond and subsequently misses his or her court date, then a judge usually orders a bond forfeiture hearing. During the hearing, the judge will decide whether or not the defendant had a good reason for failing to appear in court. If the judge determines the defendant did not have cause, he or she will ordinarily issue a warrant for the defendant’s arrest. Typically, the judge also specifies that the defendant must be found by a certain date. If the defendant cannot be located by that date, the court will move forward with bond forfeiture proceedings.

If a defendant has put up collateral in order to secure a bond, a bail bond company may sell the collateral in order to obtain cash to pay the bond once a bond forfeiture has been ordered. If the defendant’s family or friends have given collateral, such as a mortgage or car, they will also likely lose those items. Additionally, the bail bond company may attempt to recover any costs associated with locating the defendant.

Bail bond companies suffer severe financial consequences when their clients fail to show up for scheduled court appearances. If a bond is forfeited, a company must pay out the cash value of the bond. As a result, bonding companies often hire people, referred to as bounty hunters or skip tracers, to find fleeing defendants. If a defendant is found, the company usually turns him or her over to the authorities. As long as the defendant can be found and returned to the court's custody before a bond forfeiture is finalized, a court generally won't require the company to pay the bond.

In addition to bond forfeiture, a defendant usually faces other consequences for missing a court date. Typically, once found, a fleeing defendant will immediately be placed in jail. The defendant may also be charged with the crime of jumping bail, which is considered a felony offense in many jurisdictions. If convicted, the defendant could ultimately be sentenced to additional jail time and ordered to pay hefty fines.

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Discussion Comments
By Realited — On Dec 16, 2013

I'm almost certain that the salaries of the people who work in the legal system are not taken solely from bonds and bail money.

By eoconnor — On Dec 16, 2013
@Grinderry: It's not that nature of the crime, but the amount of monies that are required by the courts in order to process all the paperwork required for the hearing, along with other fees and fines that help to pay the salaries of everyone involved in this kind of occupation.
By Contentum — On Dec 15, 2013

What kind of crime would require that someone place their mortgage on the line? That's crazy.

By Grinderry — On Dec 14, 2013
There is always the question of what constitutes a valid reason for missing court, and whether or not that reason is on the list of valid reasons. Suppose you have a relative that is sick? Will this constitute a good enough reason to miss a court date? Sometimes the decision is left to the discretion of the judge, but what if he's having a bad day? Often I worry about the legal system and the ways that lawyers and police find loopholes in them to satisfy their own needs or accomplish their own goals.
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