Bail bond companies, like so many other businesses, are subject to government regulation. But because the bail process is so integral to the criminal justice system and there’s plenty of room for abuse, states appoint agencies to monitor the industry. For example, the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, Division of Regulatory Affairs oversees and licenses people who engage in the bail bond business in order to make sure their behavior is up to standards. In addition, states employ statutes that regulate the bail bond industry.
But regardless of regulation, bail bond agents can be quite aggressive. You’ll often find them as near to local courthouses and jails as they can get, handing out business cards, key chains, and any other assortment of advertising material. They have quite the incentive: they often charge 10%—perhaps less if a lawyer arranges bail or provides the referral—of the bail amount that they post on behalf of the suspect. And bail can be quite pricey. For example, in Los Angeles County Superior Court, the standard bail for misdemeanor assault is $20,000.
Courts Step In
Courts have upheld a variety statutes, from those that restrict the amount bail bondsmen can charge to others prohibiting agents from soliciting business in specified areas, like courthouses. In a 2013 California case, an appellate court upheld the conviction of a bail agent for violating a regulation regarding sales tactics. (People v. Dolezal, 2d Crim. B245316 (2013).)
In that case, an employee of the agent went, unsolicited, to visit a suspect in jail, where she convinced the suspect to use her company. (The deal was cut short because the suspect’s husband had already arranged for bail.) The court found the conviction proper and validated the California law that requires suspects or someone on their behalf—as opposed to a bond company—to initiate a bail agreement. That statute and others like it also bans bondsmen from using underhanded tactics to convince potential patrons to accept their services.