Defining the term “forfeit” is key to answering “what does bail forfeiture mean?” To forfeit means that something is lost or surrendered as a penalty, possibly by way of a monetary fine. In the simplest terms, bail forfeiture is when a defendant loses their bail bonds money. In a situation of bail forfeiture, bail is released to the court without option for future repayment. When this happens, the defendant loses their bail bond money and will not be able to get it back.
Voluntary Bail Forfeiture
Bail forfeiture is typically involuntarily but in some cases may be the defendant’s choice. Voluntary bail forfeiture is possible in some states in certain circumstances. A defendant may use the bail posted for their release as payment for any court costs, fines, fees or assessments that are part of their sentence.
In some states and certain counties in California, bail forfeiture can be used as both a means to be released from jail and to close a case. Bail forfeitable offenses are typically misdemeanors such as traffic violations. If the defendant appears in court to defend their case within a specified amount of time and they win their case, the bail money may be returned to them. If the case is lost or the defendant does not appear in court within the specified timeframe, the bail amount will not be returned to the defendant and the case is closed.
Involuntary Bail Forfeiture
Involuntary bail forfeiture happens when a person does not appear to a scheduled court hearing and does not have a valid reason. If this happens, the court will order that any bail posted for the defendant’s release be paid over to the court. Forfeiture of bail does not end the case. When a person fails to appear in court will cause an arrest warrant to be issued and a new bail amount may be set.
Failing to Appear in Court
Generally, failing to appear in court may be excused if the defendant did not do so on purpose to evade the court (ie. they were unaware of the court date) and the person never signed an agreement to appear in court. However, being validated for missing a court appearance is a rare situation. When bail is initially posted the court sets the condition that the defendant must appear in court.
Examples of invalid reasons to miss a court hearing include: not feeling like going to court, ignoring the court date because of alleged innocence, and attending another function. Not only does an inexcusable failure to appear in court cause involuntary bail forfeiture, it can also be grounds for a criminal offense in itself.
What Does Bail Forfeiture Mean for Those Who Funded the Bail
If you funded the bail bond for someone who does not appear at their court hearing, without a valid reason, the resulting involuntary bail forfeiture unfortunately means that money is released to the court and will not be returned. In the case of voluntary bail forfeiture most courts will require authorization of the person who posted bail before its release to fund legal fees.
Sometimes a defendant does not have anyone who can or will post bail for them. The defendant may seek help from a bail bondsman who would put up their own money in order to secure the defendant’s release from jail for a reasonable fee based on the bond amount. If the defendant’s bail is forfeited the bondsman can sue the defendant or their estate for repayment.
How to Avoid Bail Forfeiture
Thankfully, involuntary bail forfeiture is simple to avoid. If bail is posted and a court hearing date is set be sure to appear at the appointed place and time. You should aim to be early for any court appearance in case of traffic accidents, locating the correct courtroom, or anything else that may delay travel. It is also good practice to get a good night’s sleep before a court meeting and to make sure alarms are set in order to avoid being late or missing the agreed upon time. Learn more about bail forfeiture here.
Bail Bondsman You Can Trust
It’s important to know the legal and financial implications of signing for a bail bond. At Frank Calabretta’s Bail House Bail Bonds we are happy to answer any and all of your questions about the bail bonds process. Call us anytime at (530) 823-8340 for more information or to set up a bail bond with one of our agents.
Frank Calabretta’s Bail House is the oldest bail bonds company in Placer County, serving our community for over 40 years. We can process bail bonds over the phone using any major credit card and expedite the release from jail for inmates in Placer County, Sacramento County, El Dorado County, and Nevada County. We are available 24 hours a day, every day of the year!