BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Once someone is arrested, they’re booked, fingerprinted and run through a nationwide warrants check.
Some people may be released on their recognizance. Others, however, may need the services of a bail bondsman to secure their release from jail.
What exactly does a bondsman do? There have been films and television shows about the profession, but their basis in reality is up for debate.
For an explanation of a bondsman’s duties, 17 News reached out to Gotta Go Bail Bonds owner Glen Pierce, who typically has 100 to 200 clients out on bond at any given time, having built a solid business reputation after nearly three decades. Pierce is also a private investigator, and last year won “Investigator of the Year” from the state Defense Investigators Association.
How much does a bond cost?
That depends on the bail amount the judge sets. In Kern County, there is a bail schedule with a recommended bail amount listed for each crime.
For example, $50,000 is the recommended bail amount for carjacking, $25 for residential burglary. Some crimes, like murder, can result in bail of $1 million or the defendant being held without bail. Enhancements and prior convictions can result in higher bail.
For simplicity’s sake, let’s say the judge set bail at $10,000.
There are three types of percentages that can be charged, Pierce said. Typically a 10% bond is necessary to get released. In the case of $10,000 bail, a $1,000 bond must be paid.
An 8% charge is available for union or military members, or veterans. Those who retain private counsel need only pay 7%. Defendants with private counsel are less likely to miss court.
“If I’m going to invest $50,000 into my attorney, am I going to go on the run? Usually not,” Pierce said.
A rate is decided on, then a down payment and payment plan are negotiated and family members co-sign paperwork. Pierce requires they provide him with documentation including check stubs, a photo ID and a bill with their address on it.
Once everything is filled out, copies are provided to family and Pierce goes to jail and posts the bond.
If the defendant is being held at the Central Receiving Facility downtown, they’ll typically be released two to four hours after the bond is posted. Lerdo Jail typically takes between two to six hours.
Pierce takes payment by cash, check or credit card, and will take real estate as collateral for bigger bonds. Some bondsmen take vehicle titles, but Pierce said he doesn’t want the hassle of keeping a car in storage.
He also doesn’t accept jewelry as collateral.
“It could say ’14-karat gold’ on it and be gold-plated,” he said.
What’s required to become a bail bondsman?
Prospective bondsmen must be at least 18 and obtain a license from the state Department of Insurance by passing a 20-hour course on laws, ethics and rights of the accused, among other topics. Licenses can be renewed every two years with a continuing education course.
The training spells out what you can and can’t do. For instance, Pierce said, bondsmen aren’t allowed to force entry to a home to capture someone who has jumped bail. They can’t take a fugitive’s relative hostage in an effort to force them to reveal where they’re hiding.
When he first started as a recovery agent in 1996, there were hardly any rules regarding bail recovery, Pierce said. The state has since implemented rules to ensure bondsmen don’t break laws in the course of their duties.
What happens when someone who has been released on bond fails to show up for court?
There are any number of reasons someone could miss court. Illness, car trouble, they simply forgot. Pierce has dealt with every excuse. Some are legitimate. But sometimes people run.
When that happens, the bail company has 180 days to find them. They can apply for an extension of up to another 180 days, but once time expires the bail company is on the hook for the bond.
Pierce says his office — a family business that includes his wife, two daughters and brother — checks on their clients using the Kern County Superior Court website. It’s updated daily to say whether a bond has been forfeited.
“At that point you know you’ve got a problem,” Pierce said.
The bail company then has to find the person and bring them back to court. Pierce has a couple of bail recovery agents he uses, including one with extensive law enforcement contacts.
They use databases, informants, anonymous tips and social media, which has proved invaluable. It’s rare to find a person who doesn’t use some combination of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram or other app, and often they reveal information leading to their capture.
If licensed properly, bail recovery agents will be armed. The person they’re looking for may have been in custody on a violent crime. It’s best not to take chances.
Usually, however, the person being sought won’t resort to violence, Pierce said. They’ll try to run, jump out a back window, but that’s generally it.
“A lot of times it’s the element of surprise,” Pierce said of capturing them without a hitch.
‘The excitement, the adrenaline’
Pierce has been involved in a number of high-profile recoveries throughout his career. One of the more recent ones was Esteban Valdez Gutierrez, who fled to Mexico before his sentencing hearing in a 2016 drunken driving crash that left a young woman permanently disabled.
Another one, from when he first started out in the field, was his involvement in finding Juan Villa Ramirez, who in 1997 killed Arvin High football star Chad Yarbrough.
He loves the action, but Pierce said most important factor in being a successful bondsman is the customer service. Be honest with clients, and follow through with what you tell them.
Pierce even goes an extra stop and files motions so he can post bond in court and a client doesn’t have to go into custody, and motions to prove a client’s money wasn’t obtained illegally.
“I’ve learned from some of the best attorneys in Kern County,” he said.
And, as laws in the state continue to change and technology evolves, he continues to learn. What keeps him interested after 27 years in the profession?
“The excitement, the adrenaline,” he said.