Bail Information: How the NCSL Can Help You Understand the Risks of Forfeiture

Who and What is the NCSL?

The National Conference of State Legislatures was established in 1974 as an organization dedicated to representing the interests of legislators and other influential members of the government. Since its inception, the NCSL has been working with legislators by supporting their campaigns and projects, while maintaining the same mission of ensuring state legislatures have a strong influence in the government. The organization is strengthened by the support of both Republicans and Democrats in the United States government; thus, the NCSL works to maintains an unbiased relationship with both legislators and staff of these parties. Through the main website of the NCSL, you can find helpful information regarding state legislatures and other matters relating to civil and criminal justice.

What is the Bail Forfeiture Procedure?

The NCSL also provides useful information for individuals who are facing bail or awaiting their initial hearing in court. According to the 50 State Chart of Bail Forfeiture Procedures, bail bonds can be "forfeited" or forced to be given up to the court if any of the conditions of bail have been violated. For instance, a defendant who was released on bail paid in cash does not appear in court on the required date; in this case, the bail bond would be forfeited. Generally, the surety or "guarantee" for the defendant's appearance in court will be contacted in the case that the bail bond is forfeited. Once the notice has been sent, the surety will have the opportunity to provide the court with a reason for the defendant's inability to appear in court. Without any action, the consequence for the surety will be to pay the forfeited bond amount, which can be thousands of dollars.

Is it Possible to Defend Against Forfeiture?

In most states, sureties will be granted the opportunity to defend themselves in the case that the defendant does not appear in court as required. As a secondary option, the surety can also attempt to bring the defendant into court as a way of defending against forfeiture. Depending on the state, sureties will have the ability to appear in court and provide a reason for the defendant's "non-appearance." However, the judge will use his/her law background and experience to deem whether the reason is acceptable and justifies the actions of the defendant. Although death is the main reason that can be considered reasonable by the court in most states, there are some other acceptable explanations. For instance, Massachusetts will accept "an act of God" as a reason for someone violating his/her bail conditions. Additionally, some states will also allow mental and/or physical disorientation as reasons for non-appearance in court.

Exceptions to Common Forfeiture Procedures

Some state courts will allow the "remission of paid forfeiture" in the case that the defendant appears in court or the surety meets certain conditions. For instance, Alabama will accept to repay the forfeited bail amount to the surety as long as the defendant is brought into the court and the administration is not impacted. Similarly, some states will complete the remission of paid forfeiture process if the defendant appears in court within six months of the missed court date. However, the various courts will operate at their own discretion in most cases as each case is different.

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