State law provides regulations for how bail agents conduct their business. As part of executing a bond on behalf of defendants, bail agents advertise their services, meet with their clients in jails, police stations, courts and other offices and interact with members of law enforcement, court personnel and other public officials. For each of these activities, state lawmakers have put legal guidelines in place.
The premium is a fee that a bail agent charges a defendant in order to execute a bond. While the premium is the primary payment made by a defendant to a bail agent, states also allow for other money to be collected for collateral, or to pay fees or other costs. For example, Mississippi law allows bail agents to charge defendants for fees related to “court-approved electronic monitoring or drug testing.” Many states that enable the commercial bond practice vest the power to determine rates for premiums in insurers and the regulatory bodies that oversee them. For example, in Arizona premium rates are established by a surety insurer and approved by the director of insurance. At least 16 states have specific percentages or dollar amounts specified in statute for bond premiums.
Other state regulations on premiums are aimed at ensuring that defendants released on cash bond pay some sum of money to a bail agent before they are released, rather than enabling 100 percent of the sum to be financed. In Florida, for example, it is unlawful to execute a bail bond without charging a premium and in Indiana bail agents must collect a full premium for the bail bond as specified by the state’s commissioner of insurance. Maryland law expressly authorizes bail agents to collect their premiums in installment payments.
To manage how bail agents can pursue new clients, states also regulate locations where they can solicit in person. Courts, police stations and jails are commonly prohibited locations. General exceptions to these laws include if a bail agent is called to the location by a new client, or is on the premises to conduct business or some other legitimate task with an existing client. For example, in Virginia a bail agent cannot “loiter by any jail or magistrate’s office unless there on legitimate business.”
State law often aims at preventing bail agents from gaining a business advantage through improper relationships with government employees or other professionals. These laws vary in structure. Some prevent jailers, police officers or other officials from suggesting the services of a particular bail agent to a defendant. Others prevent a bail agent from giving financial incentives to these professionals and still more prevent any arrangements where an official gives a bail agent information about a defendant’s status. Sixteen states prohibit bail agents from suggesting the professional services of another person to a defendant, with attorneys being the position most commonly mentioned. In addition, 17 states do not allow bail agents to act as an attorney, give legal advice, or participate in any legal capacity for their client at their client’s trial.
Regulation on Advertisements
Print advertising by bail agents is also subject to state regulation. The most common prohibition in statute prevents bail agents from advertising as surety insurance companies. Other standards focus on clarity in advertisement, such as prominently displaying the name of the bail agency, mandating specific contact information and preventing the inclusion of words deemed to be deceptive.