Beyond Bail: Key terms explained

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Beyond Bail

This series explores the use of cash bail in Wisconsin and around the country.

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Bail is defined in Wisconsin statutes as “monetary conditions of release,” but is often used interchangeably with bond.

Bond is a form of security to ensure a defendant’s appearance at future court dates. It can be in the form of cash, property or their signature.

Cash bond, or cash bail, is an amount of money defendants have to pay to be released from jail while their cases are pending. The money is returned to them if they show up to court and comply with the conditions of their release, unless the defendant owes restitution or other fees to the court. Then, the bail money would first be applied to those fees.

If the judge orders a signature bond, the defendant signs a promise to return to court and is released without having to post cash. This is sometimes called being released on one’s own recognizance. Signature bonds often still have a specified monetary amount attached to them, which defendants may have to pay if they miss court or violate the terms of their release.

Pretrial is the period from arrest through case resolution.

Pretrial detention, also called preventative detention, is the practice of detaining potentially dangerous defendants without bail as they wait for their court dates.

A bail bondsman is a third party who pledges to pay the full cash bond amount if a defendant fails to appear for court. The defendant is released after paying a non-refundable fee, usually 10 percent of the bond amount, to the bail bondsman. Wisconsin is among the few states to have outlawed this practice.

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