Unlike many things to do with the justice system the bail bonds process is actually pretty straightforward. Should a person run afoul of the law for whatever reason and wind up in jail, they contact a bondsman who, after examining the facts, posts a bond that allows the accused to return home while awaiting their day in court. The bail agent keeps an amount equal to a percentage of the bail as a fee for their services and when the legal process has run its course the bond is cleared, the agent gets their money back and everyone is happy.
That is, until the accused decides not to show up in court for their scheduled appearance. Should that happen the bail agent would then be on the hook for the entire amount of the bail. And as you can imagine, they are no more inclined than any other business person to simply take the loss on the chin. They will do what they need to do within the confines of the law to recoup their losses. And if that means garnishing wages, then that’s what it means.
In the event a defendant skips out on bail and leaves the bonding agent holding the bag that agent will of course use whatever legal means is at their disposal to collect on this debt. But whether that entails compelling an indemnitor to liquidate assets or garnishing their wages the process starts with a lawsuit. As part of their court victory the bonding agent will be granted the legal authority to seize those assets or, in this case, garnish the wages of the person legally responsible for the bond.
If the person liable for the bond thinks they can avoid a judgment against them by not showing up to defend themselves, they are mistaken. In such a case the bail agent will win the lawsuit by default along with it the right to garnish wages. The only chance an indemnitor stands of not being held responsible for the debt is if they can somehow prove the bail agent’s claim is illegitimate. And the only way they can prove that is if the agent is unable to provide documentation - such as the original bond contract - supporting their claim. The odds of that happening however, are slim and none.
While it can often be difficult for a creditor to prove the legitimacy of a debt the bonding agent doesn’t typically run into this problem. That’s because of the nature of the bonding process. At the beginning of this piece we mentioned that it’s one of the few straightforward aspects of the criminal justice system and that is true. It’s also what makes the bonding agent’s hand so strong when it comes to securing judgments against wayward clients. When the indemnitor secured bail for their loved one they signed a legally binding contract that stipulated that if the accused skipped bail they (the indemnitor) would pay the cost of the forfeited bond (plus the cost of tracking down and returning their loved one to custody). With the accused now confirmed to be a fugitive from justice and the bail agent in possession of this document, the argument is essentially over.
Once the bail bonding agent has secured a judgment they apply to the court for what is known as a “writ of execution”. Armed with this the bail agent pays the local sheriff in, say, Jefferson County, Arapahoe County or Denver County a small fee to serve the writ of execution to the indemnitor’s employer. The employer is then bound by law to garnish the wages of the employee/indemnitor and remit the specified amount to the bail company every payday until the debt is satisfied.
The laws pertaining to garnishing of wages vary in different states. However, in every state in which bail agents are allowed to practice and which also allow creditors to garnish wages (only North and South Carolina, Texas and Pennsylvania don’t), bondsmen are allowed to pursue this type of relief. And again, this aspect of the bail industry is as straightforward and easy to understand as most other aspects of the business. There should be no doubt on the part of the prospective indemnitor that, should their loved one or friend jump bail, that the bonding agent is going to seek restitution for money lost as well as money spent on tracking down, capturing and returning the fugitive to custody.
It should go without saying that the fastest and easiest way to end the garnishment of wages is to pay off the debt in full. However, if the indemnitor feels that the garnishment is unnecessarily punitive and is making it difficult for them to live their life they may appeal to the court for relief themselves. In such cases the judge may decide to invalidate the garnishment order, to reduce it to a more manageable level or to simply let it stand as is. Given the typically clear cut nature of the debt it’s unlikely a judge would vacate the garnishment order completely.
Garnishing a client’s wages is the last thing a bail agent wants to do. The hoped for outcome of any situation is that the accused lives up to the terms of their release, makes their scheduled court appearances and the bond is cleared and the money returned at the end of legal proceedings.