Law Offices of M. Gabriela Guraiib

The Bail Process in California: What You Need to Know


Bail is a system that allows an accused person to be released from custody by holding money or property to ensure the accused appears in court for trial. The amount that must be posted with the court will vary depending on several factors. 

It’s important to understand the bail process and the options available to you. Serious penalties and financial penalties may be incurred if not properly navigated. Here’s what you need to know about bail in California and how it could impact you after being arrested. 

How Does Bail Work?

Bail allows the accused to be freed from custody provided they make all trial and pretrial hearings. The government holds cash or property as collateral to be returned if the defendant appears at all court proceedings. The funds can be posted by the accused, friends or family of the accused, or by a bondsman. 

Four types of bail may be used in California: 

  • Cash Bail: The accused or someone on their behalf pays the required amount in cash. Administrative fees are taken from the funds and returned if the defendant appears at all court proceedings. This option is simple but can be a significant financial burden.
  • Property Bond: Property bonds use real property as collateral to cover the amount ordered. A professional appraisal is necessary to determine the value of the property. While property bonds involve more complex legal procedures, they can allow for larger amounts.
  • Bail Bond: A bond involves an agreement with a bondsman who will pay the full amount ordered by the court if the accused fails to appear. The accused pays a fee to the bondsman, generally a percentage of the ordered amount. California law limits the fee to a maximum of 10 percent. Bondsmen make secured release accessible to those who cannot afford the full amount. Still, they can lead to additional costs if the accused is non-compliant with court-ordered appearances, as the bondsman will attempt to collect the total amount if you fail to appear. 
  • Own Recognizance Release (O.R.): O.R. Allows the accused to be released from custody without bail if they agree and adhere to conditions imposed by the court. O.R. agreements allow those who are of low risk to be released without a financial burden.

Process of Setting Bail

Bail may be set by a predetermined county schedule or during a specific hearing. A hearing can be requested at the accused’s first court appearance. During the hearing, a judge will consider several factors when setting terms of release:

  • Severity of the Offense: Felonies with significant penalties can justify a higher bail amount.
  • Flight Risk: Frequent travel and a lack of steady employment may increase the perceived flight risk.
  • Previous Criminal Record: Recent felony convictions or a history of habitual offenses may categorize someone as high risk.
  • Community ties: Local family and volunteering with community organizations may be factored in a trial.
  • Financial Considerations: Under California’s carceral system, you cannot be legally held simply because you cannot afford to pay. Your financial situation may be considered when release terms are set.

These factors and more are calculated on the county’s bail schedule. This schedule provides guidelines for prescribed amounts based on the offense of the arrest.

How to Post Bail

The process of posting bail can vary slightly in California, depending on the county where the arrest occurred. The general steps for setting these terms are:

  1. Determine where the accused is being held: This information can be determined by contacting the local jail or checking online. You need to provide the person’s full name, birth date, and booking number (if available).
  2. Determine the ordered amount: You can find the amount ordered by asking the jail, looking online, or calling a bond dealer.
  3. Decide how to pay: Decide between cash, a bond, or property. Remember, the court will also issue a non-refundable fee, usually 10 percent, on top of the release amount.
  4. Make the payment: Once you’ve decided how to proceed, you can pay the funds or property directly to the jail or court, or through a bondsman. 
  5. Wait for release: After bail is posted, the release process can take several hours, especially during busy times. 

Remember that release is contingent on appearing for all court proceedings and that missing these dates may result in forfeiting the held amount and further incarceration. 

Alternatives to Bail

In California, the accused can’t be held solely because they cannot afford the amount set. Clear and convincing evidence that detention is necessary to protect public safety must be provided. Own Recognizance (O.R.) can allow those who are low-risk to be released without bail. An O.R. agreement must be reached, which will place limits on the accused while they are released. This can include but is not limited to:

  • Wearing a GPS tracking device,
  • House arrest with electronic monitoring, 
  • Wearing a SCRAM device for alcohol monitoring,
  • Placement in an inpatient treatment facility, 
  • limited access to social media and contact with involved parties.

Your county’s website will contain information about pretrial services and pretrial release programs.

Ensuring Bail Is Returned

It is crucial to appear at all court proceedings and comply with all court orders. Failing to comply at any time before judgment or failure to surrender in execution of the judgment after appeal can result in bail forfeiture. Once the case is resolved, the court will release (Exonerate) your funds or property. In cash bail, the funds will be applied to any fines or restitutions that result from the conclusion of the trial.

Get Experienced Legal Help for Your Bail Concerns.

The bail process in California can offer those accused the chance to remain free from incarceration during the trial process, allowing for stability and security, with a variety of payment methods and pretrial programs available to the accused. To learn more about your rights and legal options during your case, you should talk to an experienced defense attorney.The skilled attorneys at the Law Offices of M. Gabriela Guraiib can help you provide personal guidance to the bail process in California. Learn more about how we can assist you by scheduling your consultation.