Bail is typically set by a magistrate or a judge who considers the seriousness of the offense and the likelihood of the defendant fleeing the jurisdiction, and then establishes a monetary amount that must be paid to secure the defendant's appearance at all subsequent court hearings. Bail can be paid in a cash amount or may be paid in the form of security against a piece of real estate. More often, it is paid by the posting of a bond written by a bail bondsman.
A bond issued by a bail bondsman is a type of insurance policy with the court as the beneficiary of that policy. The defendant who obtains the bond from the bail bondsman pays a premium for that bond, which normally is a certain percentage of the face amount of the bond. If the defendant does not appear at subsequent court proceedings, then the bondsman has to pay that bond amount to the court. The bondsman then will frequently use a bounty hunter to go out and find that defendant and return him or her to the court so that the bondsman can redeem (get its money back) its bond.
The Eighth Amendment provides that excessive bail shall not be required. That is a rather loose standard and indeed the amount of bail that will be set by the court is a very subjective matter.
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