The most common way defendants satisfy the financial condition of their bail is through an arrangement with a bail agent in the commercial bond industry.
A bail agent, also referred to in states as a surety bondsman or professional bondsman, is a person who, for financial gain, guarantees a defendant’s appearance to the court and promises to pay the full financial amount of bond if the defendant fails to appear or otherwise triggers forfeiture.
States often require licenses for professional bail agents to practice in the commercial bail industry. Thirty-seven states have licensing requirements for bail agents and four prohibit commercial bond all together. In all but a few states, a state agency is responsible for regulating bond agents and their licensing. Often an insurance department or commission has this responsibility, while a few states use a financial services agency or the judicial branch for this function.
Common state requirements for bail agent licensure include reaching a certain age, paying a fee, passing an exam, completing education requirements, and submitting a criminal background check. There are additional prohibitions against employment in specified professions, most commonly judicial officers, members of law enforcement and attorneys.
To maintain licenses, bail agents generally must meet continuing education requirements, pay renewal fees and abstain from committing enumerated criminal offenses. For example, most states will not issue nor renew a license to those who commit a felony, a crime of moral turpitude or offenses involving misappropriation of money or property.
The chart below provides information on licensure requirements of persons who are authorized to issue bail bonds, either as an individual or under the auspices of a bail bond company.