What is bail?

Bail is an amount of money or bond set by a judge at court to secure the defendant’s future appearance at court dates. (A bond is legal contract that requires someone to pay money if the defendant does not appear at a court date.) If a defendant’s family or friends are able to provide the cash bail or bond to the court (and “post” bail), the defendant is released before trial and must attend all court dates. If a defendant does not show up for a court date, the court may keep the bail (the bail has been “forfeited”) and issue a warrant for the defendant’s arrest. If a defendant makes all court appearances, the bail will be refunded back less a 3% administrative fee if the defendant is found or pleads guilty.

If a defendant cannot post bail, he or she will be held at a Department of Corrections facility until bail is paid, the case has been disposed of or he or she is released for another reason.

When is bail set?

Bail generally is set at the first court appearance, called arraignment, which must occur within 24 hours of the defendant’s arrest. At this appearance, the judge will announce the charges against the defendant. In certain instances, a defendant may plead guilty at arraignment, ending the case. If the defendant pleads not guilty, a judge has four release options. He may release the defendant on his or her own recognizance, meaning the defendant is free to go without paying any money or providing a bond; he may set bail in various forms, which the defendant (and friends and family) must post to secure his or her release; he may release the defendant to a supervised release program, which will require the defendant to check-in by phone and in-person; and lastly, for certain felonies, he may deny bail and remand the defendant to Department of Corrections custody without bail.

What are the different forms of bail?

New York’s bail law includes nine different forms of bail payment, listed and described below. However, a defendant cannot post bail in a given form unless the judge has set bail in that form. New York state law also requires judges provide two forms of bail. Most judges will set bail in the two most common forms: cash and commercial bail bond. Typically, judges will also provide a discount on cash bail (a so-called “cash alternative”), requiring cash bail only be 50% or 67% of commercial bond amount (for example, if a judge sets bail at $1,000 for a commercial bail bond, with a cash alternative, a family or friend would only need to provide $500 or $667 in cash). 

The types of bail are:

  • Cash bail – Anyone can pay the full amount of bail via cash at the courthouse; at DOC facilities other forms of money are acceptable (full list provided in “how to pay bail” section below); payer will get a full refund if defendant appears at all court dates less a 3% fee imposed upon conviction.
  • Insurance company bail bond – Anyone can contract with bail bondsmen. The bail bondsmen will charge a fee which is not returnable and will require collateral (cash or property), which is refunded at the termination of the case so long as the defendant has made all appearances and complied with bail bondsmen requirements (more on bail bondsmen below). Proof of income and/or assets may be required by the bail bondsmen.
  • Secured surety bond – Anyone except the defendant secures release via collateral of personal property (cars etc.) equal or greater in value to the bond or real estate with a value at least twice that of the bond.
  • Secured appearance bond – The defendant secures release via collateral of personal property (cars etc.) equal or greater in value to the bond or real estate with a value at least twice that of the bond.
  • Partially secured surety bond – Someone other than the defendant approved by court secures the defendant’s release by providing a deposit of no more than 10% of the total bail amount with a promise to pay the rest if the defendant fails to appear (for example, if the judge sets a partially secured surety bond of $500, the surety would pay $50 upfront and would owe $450 if he or she missed a court date). Proof of income and/or assets may be required by the court.
  • Partially secured appearance bond – The defendant provides a deposit of no more than 10% of the total bail amount with a commitment to pay the rest if he or she fails to appear.
  • Unsecured surety bond – Someone other than the defendant approved by court secures the defendant’s release by committing to pay the full amount of bail if the defendant fails to appear. No property or money is required as a deposit or collateral, but the court may require proof of assets or income.
  • Unsecured appearance bond – The defendant secures his or her own release by committing to pay the full amount of bail if he or she fails to appear. No property or money is required as a deposit or collateral.
  • Credit card – Full amount of bail is charged to a credit card and returned if the defendant appears, less a 3% administrative fee is defendant is convicted.

How can I pay bail?

There are two places to pay bail: in a courthouse during a defendant’s appearance (either at arraignment or immediately after or at subsequent court dates) and at Department of Corrections facilities. The bail-paying process differs based on the location of the payment. 

Courthouse

You can pay bail in-person at a courthouse only when the defendant is also present at the court. Families and friends most commonly pay bail at the courthouse during arraignment. Immediate payment of bail during arraignment can prevent the defendant from being transferred to Department of Corrections custody and jail. Cash is accepted at courthouses (or credit card, if the judge designates that as an option, though that is relatively rare); courthouse cashiers do not accept any form of check or money order and may not have change so do your best to have exact change.

To post bail at the courthouse at arraignment or a subsequent appearance, determine which courtroom is hearing the defendant’s case. Once in the courtroom, notify the defendant’s attorney, the court officer and the court clerk of your intention to pay bail for a given defendant. At arraignment, you will need to wait until the defendant has gone before the judge, and for appearances after arraignment,  you may need to wait until the defendant’s case is called to pay bail.  Tthe court officer will ensure the defendant is held in the building for release, and the clerk will direct you to the cashier’s office in that courthouse.

If you are not in the courtroom at the time of the arraignment but have received a phone call from the NYC Criminal Justice Agency (CJA) indicating that the defendant has given your name and phone number to call to see if you could post the bail, CJA will place a hold on the defendant with the Department of Correction, which delays transportation to the Correctional Facility so you can come to court to pay the bail.  These holds last two to three hours after which the defendant will be transported to the correctional facility.

Department of Corrections (DOC)

If the defendant is detained in a DOC facility, you may pay bail only at DOC facilities, though you can pay bail at any of them in the city. For example, even if the defendant is held at Rikers Island, you may still pay bail at the Brooklyn or Manhattan Detention Complexes, if those locations are more convenient. To pay bail at a DOC facility, you must provide personal identification as well as the New York State Identification (NYSID) number of the defendant to be bailed.

Locations:

You may pay bail at four different DOC facilities located in all boroughs but Staten Island:

  • Brooklyn Detention Complex, 275 Atlantic Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11201 (2, 3, 4, or 5 to Borough Hall; R to Court Street; A, C or G Hoyt-Schermerhorn Street, A, C, F or R to Jay Street/MetroTech; B25, B26, B38, B41, B45, B52, B54, B57, B61, B62, B63, B65, B67, B103)
  • Manhattan Detention Complex, 115 Centre St, New York, NY 10013 (6, N, Q, R, J, or Z to Canal Street)
  • Vernon C. Bain Center, 1 Halleck Street Bronx, NY 10474 (Bx6, Bx46)
  • Rikers Island (Q101 and Q100. The Q101 originates in Manhattan, at East 59th Street and Second Avenue. It will take you to Hazen Street and 19th Avenue in Queens, which is the entrance to Rikers Island. You will have to transfer here to the Q100 bus to travel over the Rikers Island Bridge to the Rikers Island Visit Center. The Q100 originates on Jackson Av at 42 Road in Queens and continues to the Rikers Island Visit Center.)

Forms of Bail

No matter the form used to pay bail, DOC does not provide any change in bail transactions. You must provide the exact amount of the bail, though you can combine multiple types of payment in one transaction (for example, to pay $1,500 bail you can provide on bank money order for $1,000 and $500 in cash). The following forms of bail are accepted:

  • U.S. cash for the full amount in exact change;
  • Cashier’s / Teller’s check in any amount not exceeding the bail figure;
  • Bank money order, with each order no greater than $1,000 (multiple orders are accepted);
  • Federal Express money order, with each order no greater than $1,000 (multiple orders are accepted);
  • U.S. Postal money order, with each order no greater than $1,000 (multiple orders are accepted);
  • Travelers Express Company money order, with each order no greater than $1,000 (multiple orders are accepted);
  • Western Union money order, with each order no greater than $1,000 (multiple orders are accepted); and
  • Credit or debit card, using the phones located on the wall. If you choose to use a credit card, you will also have to pay an 8% processing fee.


Checks and money orders must be made out to the facility where you are paying bail, regardless of where the defendant is housed. In Brooklyn, checks should be made out to the “Brooklyn Detention Complex,”; in Manhattan, the payee should be “the Manhattan Detention Complex,” and in the Bronx, it would be “the Vernon C. Bain Center.” For payment at Rikers Island, make the check or money order out to “The Rikers Island Central Cashier” or “RICC.” Checks or money orders may not be made out to the “Department of Corrections,” or any other entity aside from the facility name.

Payment will not be accepted if it is in the form of a personal check; if it is addressed to an incorrect payee or if it is a check or money order (except for a cashier’s check) for an amount exceeding the $1,000 limit.

For further information on inmates, bail, visiting hours, and travel directions call (718) 546-0700.

What if I am not physically present in the city to pay bail after the defendant has been transported to a DOC facility?

If you are not able to be physically present at  a DOC facility, you may still be able to bail someone out. If you have access to the money for bail, you can transfer the money to the defendant’s DOC commissary account at and then the defendant is able to self-pay his or her own bail. There are a few limitations associated with this self-pay option. First, because the money is transferred to the defendant’s commissary account, the receipt for the bail money will be in his or her name, rather than your name. Upon the completion of the case, if the defendant makes all appearances, the money will be returned to the defendant, and not to you, even though you transferred the money to his or her account. Second, before the money can be deposited in the commissary account certain fees and fines imposed on the defendant for infractions are deducted first. To ensure the appropriate amount of money is added for bail payment, you must call the defendant and ask if there are any fines associated with the defendant’s account. If there are, you must add that figure to the bail amount. Lastly, there is no mechanism to inform the defendant that the bail money has landed in his or her account. If you choose to transfer money to allow the defendant to self-pay, you must also call the defendant to inform him or her that the money has been transferred. The defendant can then ask a DOC official for Form #1502G, “Request for Self Bail” form.

If you choose this self-pay method, you will first need to transfer money to the defendant’s commissary account. In order to do so, you will need the inmate’s first and last name and book and case number. If you do not know the book and case number, you can look up this information on DOC’s website: go to “look up inmate” and enter the inmate’s first and last name and date of birth (if known). The defendant’s listing, including the book and case number should appear. While you can go to the DOC’s cashiers’ window to deposit money, you can also transfer money to someone using a similar method to how you wire money, by utilizing a money transfer agent (in this case, Western Union and JPay). Friends and family members can use a debit or credit to transfer money either by visiting the companies’ websites, by calling the toll-free numbers listed below, or by walking into a local branch of Western Union and JPay and using cash, credit or debit card. 

Website and phone number for the two money transfer agents are:

  • JPay, (800) 574-JPAY, www.jpay.com. Offers transfers by phone, internet, walk-in and at kiosks. (Cash-only kiosks.)
  • Western Union, (800) 325-6000 www.westernunion.com. Offers transfers by phone, internet and walk-in. The City Code required by Western Union to transfer funds is NYCITYDOC and the State Code is NY. Both are required to make a deposit.

There are fees associated with using these money transfer agents. The fees may vary depending on the company used. DOC does not receive any of these fees.

 

You may also use the inmate lookup system to send money:

  1. Go to www.nyc.gov/doc. (If you are on the website already, return to the home page).
  2. On the right, find the “Inmate Lookup” box.
  3. Click “Look Up Inmate.”
  4. Enter the inmate's NYSID or Book and Case Number. Or, enter the inmate's first and last name and date of birth (or age). This takes you to a listing for the inmate. If there are several inmates with the same name you'll go to a page where you can click on a name to pick the person you want.
  5. On the page for the inmate, click the “Send Money” button.
  6. This brings up an instruction page. Click on the logo for the money transfer agent you want to use. This takes you to the money transfer agent's website.
  7. Follow the directions at the money transfer agent's website to complete your money transfer

For more information on transferring money to an inmate’s account visit the DOC’s website here:

http://www.nyc.gov/html/doc/html/inmate-information/send-money-inmate-account.shtml

How do I get my bail money back?

When you pay cash bail at a courthouse or a DOC facility, you are the “surety” of that bail. You are entitled to receive back the funds at the end of the case if the defendant makes all court appearances. As the surety, you should receive a receipt when you pay bail that serves as a proof of payment. This receipt is very important and should be kept safe. It may required if there are any issues when processing the refund.

You do not have to do anything to receive a cash bail refund. The Department of Finance (DOF) holds the bail funds until the court closes the case. At which point, the court will issue a court order for the DOF to refund the cash bail. The DOF usually receives the cash bail refund court order about 6 weeks after the case is closed, and then the DOF mails the cash bail refund to the surety at the address on the cash bail receipt within 2 weeks. As the surety, you should receive the cash bail approximately 8 weeks after the end of the case. If the case ends in a conviction, a 3% fee will be deducted from the cash bail refund. If it has been 8 weeks and you still have not received the cash bail refund, you can reach out the DOF’s Treasury/Court Assets Unit to follow-up. This unit can discuss cash bail only with the surety. Be sure to have the docket or Treasury Receipt number available.

You can contact the unit in the following methods:

Online

nyc.gov/contactcashbail

 

Phone

212-908-7619

9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Monday - Friday

(Recorded message all other times)

 

In Person

Manhattan Business Center

66 John Street, 2nd Floor

New York, NY 10038

Monday - Friday

9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

 

Postal Mail

NYC Department of Finance

Treasury/Court Assets Unit

66 John Street, 12th Floor

New York, NY 10038

 

The DOF also provides information on the bail process online. A pamphlet describing the cash bail refund process is also translated into Bengali, Chinese, Creole, French, Korean, Russian and Spanish and available here: http://www1.nyc.gov/site/finance/sheriff-courts/courts-cash-bail-refunds.page

What if I move after paying cash bail? How do I get the money back?

To change the address on record for a cash bail refund, the surety must submit either by mail or in-person (1) a notarized letter or a signed and notarized Cash Bail Refund Change of Address Notice form at any time (available here: http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/finance/downloads/pdf/treasury/7changeofaddress.pdf); and (2) a copy of a valid government-issued ID (such as a driver’s license, passport, benefit card or municipal ID). If you do not have a valid government issued ID, you will need to provide copies of 2 forms of ID to verify your identity. At least one of these IDs must have a photo and signature (such as an employment or school ID). Other types of acceptable identification include a utility bill issued within 60 days, an ATM/bank card or a Social Security Card.

What if I want to transfer the right to receive the cash bail refund?

The surety who actually posted the bail may also give the right to receive the cash bail (called “a bail assignment”) to an attorney or someone else, who is called the “assignee.” When the cash bail is assigned or transferred to someone else, the original surety (the “assignor”) waives all rights to the cash bail refund. The assignee becomes the new surety and will receive the cash bail refund at the end of the case if the defendant makes all appearances. In order to assign cash bail, you must submit the following documents to DOF (either by mail or in-person at the address below): (1) a notarized letter requesting a cash bail assignment, or a completed notarized Bail Assignment Application form (available here: http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/finance/downloads/pdf/treasury/bail_assign.pdf ); and (2) a copy of a valid government-issued ID (such as a driver’s license, passport, benefit card or municipal ID). If you do not have a valid government issued ID, you will need to provide copies of 2 forms of ID to verify your identity. At least one of these IDs must have a photo and signature (such as an employment or school ID). Other types of acceptable identification include a utility bill issued within 60 days, an ATM/bank card or a Social Security Card.

What if the person who paid bail dies before receiving a refund?

If the surety entitled to the cash bail refund passes away, the refund can instead be paid to certain designated relatives or the person that paid the funeral expenses. To claim the refund, the designated relative or other person that paid the funeral expenses must provide either in-person or by mail to DOF (1) a signed and notarized Surety Survivor’s Affidavit and must also submit (available here: http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/finance/downloads/pdf/treasury/survivor.pdf), (2) copies of 2 pieces of identification, and (3) a certified copy of the death certificate and a paid copy of the funeral bill (if applicable). One of the forms of identification provided must be a birth certificate, marriage certificate or other document that establishes a relationship with the deceased. The other ID must be a valid government-issued ID (such as a driver’s license, passport, benefit card or municipal ID). If you do not have a valid government issued ID, you will need to provide copies of 2 forms of identification to verify your identity. At least one of these IDs must have a photo and signature (such as an employment or school ID). Other types of acceptable identification include a utility bill issued within 60 days, an ATM/bank card or a Social Security Card.

 

If for any reason, you need to stop payment on a check and order a replacement check, you must submit the following documents to DOF (either by mail or in-person at the address below) (1) a signed and notarized a Stop Payment Affidavit (available here: http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/finance/downloads/pdf/treasury/stop_pay.pdf) and (2) a copy of a valid government-issued ID (such as a driver’s license, passport, benefit card or municipal ID). If you do not have a valid government issued ID, you will need to provide copies of 2 forms of ID to verify your identity. At least one of these IDs must have a photo and signature (such as an employment or school ID). Other types of acceptable identification include a utility bill issues within 60 days, an ATM/bank card or a Social Security Card.

What if the defendant misses a court appearance?

 

If a defendant misses a court appearance, the judge may issue a court order for DOF to keep the cash bail, called a “forfeit order.” You should receive a letter notifying you that your cash bail has been forfeited by the court. You should contact the court that ordered the forfeiture or the District Attorney’s Office within 45 days of the date of the letter to learn the reason for the forfeiture.

 

There is a procedure called “remission of forfeiture” which allows you to apply for the cash bail to be returned once it has been forfeited. You may want to hire a lawyer to help you with this, but you can also do it on your own. You must apply for this remission within one year of the date that the court ordered the bail forfeited. This application must be made in writing. If you are not using a lawyer, you should ask the court clerk for instructions about how to apply for the remission. Some details are below:

 

  • A County Clerk’s Index Number must be purchased and the number endorsed on all moving papers. Index numbers are purchased at 60 Centre Street, Room 141, New York, NY 10007. The fee is $210.
  • All applications for remission must include proof that the papers were served upon the Special Projects Unit of the District Attorney’s Office, 80 Centre Place, Room 402, New York, NY 10013, and that the District Attorney has been given the statutory five days’ notice.
  • The affidavit must include facts about the criminal offense, the disposition, the posting of bail, the date of forfeiture, any stays of proceedings when the defendant was absent, facts regarding the defendant’s return to custody, the date of entry of judgment (for bonds only), a statement that not more than one year has elapsed since the forfeiture and a statement that the rights of the People have not been prejudiced. The affidavit must also describe whether any previous application for similar relief has been made, and if so, what the results were of that application. If this is a renewed application, the documents must explain new facts.
  • All supporting affidavits must be based on your (or another person’s) personal knowledge. Any substantiating documentation to support the motion (a doctor’s note, hospital records etc.) may be included, but do not replace a supporting affidavit based upon personal knowledge.
  • All motions are returnable to the Motion Support Unit, 100 Centre Street, Room 1010, New York, NY 10013, 646-386-3860. The bail remission motion together with the response and the court file are then sent to the Administrative Judge for decision. There is no set time limit for decision. When a decision is made, all parties will be notified.

 

If the bail was set in an alternative form of bail (for example, partially secured or unsecured bond), then the court clerk will enter the forfeiture order as a civil judgment of forfeiture against the surety (either you or the defendant, depending on whether it was an appearance bond or surety bond). This judgment constitutes a lien on real estate and can also be collected via other means.

 

Bail Bondsmen FAQs

What is a commercial bail bond?

Commercial bail bondsmen charge a fee and require collateral from the defendants’ friends and family to write a bond and post that bond with the court to secure defendants’ release pre-trial. By issuing a bail bond, the bondsman commits that he or she will pay the court the full amount of the defendant’s bail should the defendant fail to return to court. If you have the cash for bail available, you may prefer to pay the bail directly, because that way you will avoid fees charged by commercial bail bondsmen.

A full list of licensed bail bond companies is available here: https://myportal.dfs.ny.gov/web/guest-applications/bail-bonds-search

What fees can I be charged?

The New York State Insurance Department regulates bond agents and sets a tiered system for bond fees. These bond fees are not refundable regardless of the outcome of the case. The amount bail companies can charge upfront inclusive of everything except collateral is calculated as follows:

  • For a bond of $200 or less, the fee is $10.
  • For a bond $3,000 and under, the fee is 10% of the bond.
  • For a bond between $3,001 and $10,000, the fee is 10% for the first $3,000 and 8% for the amount between $3,000 and $10,000.
  • For a bond greater than $10,000, the fee is 10% for the first $3,000 and 8% for the amount between $3,000 and $10,000, and 6% for the amount greater than $10,000.

For example, the fee for a bond of $15,000 would be ($3,000*10% + $7,000*8% + $5,000*6%) = $1,160.

What sort of collateral can I be asked to provide?

Aside from the fee, commercial bond agents also collect collateral, which is refunded after the disposition of the case so long as the defendant has appeared at all court dates and has not violated the terms of the contract with the bail bondsmen. This collateral typically is in the form of cash, though property, including real estate and cars. Unlike the fee, no laws govern the amount of collateral a bail bondsman must or can require; however, a judge must sign-off on the bail bond and the amount of collateral.

What other requirements can be imposed?

Commercial bail bondsmen may impose other conditions on the bond as they see fit. For example, some bail agents require weekly reporting, and defendants must check-in either in-person or by phone with the bail agent.

Bail bond agents may also charge fees for various services and penalties for missed check-ins. The contract you sign with the bail agent will govern these fees, so be careful to check the contract before you sign it.

How can I make a complaint?

If you feel that you’ve been charged an excessive fee, or bail has been revoked for an improper reason, you can lodge a complaint with New York State’s Department of Financial Services. The complaint form is available here: http://www.dfs.ny.gov/consumer/fileacomplaint.htm.