If you are arrested for a serious crime, the authorities will not release you from custody unless they are confident that you will show up in court for all required hearings and trial. If you can show that you are not likely to run away and you have substantial contacts in the community that require you to stay in the area, the court can release you on your own recognizance.
Defendants who are not released on their own recognizance will usually pay some amount in bail. Bail is simply an amount of money that is deposited with the court to ensure that you show up for all court proceedings. You can post your bail in cash with the court, and you will then be released from custody. However, if you fail to show up in court, you forfeit the money to the court. Sometimes due to the severity of the crime and the court's uncertainty about whether a defendant will show up for trial, a large bail will be set.
If the defendant does not have enough cash to post the entire bail, the court will accept a bail bond. A bail bond is a promise by an insurance company to pay the entire amount of the bail if a defendant does not show up for court proceedings. The insurance company, through a bail bond agency, will charge a premium for posting the bond. For example, if the court requires $10,000 in bail, the insurance company could charge a 10 percent premium, or $1,000, to post the bond. The company will also require a guarantor to sign for the bond as well. This person will guarantee to pay the insurance company the $10,000 if the accused does not show up.
If the accused appears at trial, the court returns the insurance company's bond, and the insurance company keeps the $1,000 for posting the bond. However, if the accused flees, the insurance company loses the $10,000 it posted with the court and will require the guarantor to reimburse them for it. The company may also hire investigators to find the accused and bring him or her to court. If they are successful, the company's bond will be returned.