Bail Laws

California Bail Laws


For many states the regulations on the bail industry are found in multiple state codes. In the case of California, the regulatory body is the Insurance Department, but the bail industry is also subject to California’s Penal Code.

1. Applicable State Statutes.

 California Insurance Code, Div. 1, Part 2, Ch. 7, Sections 1800-1823 (hereafter referred to as IC).

 California Penal Code, Part 2, Title 10, Ch. 1, Article 5.5, Sections 1299-1317 (hereafter referred to as PC).

 Governance by Local Rule:

Under IC 1800.6, cities and counties are free to enact further regulations not in conflict with the IC sections cited above in A.

2. Licensing Requirements for Agents.

California provides for three kinds of bail licenses [IC 1801]:

  • Bail agents' license [IC 1802]
  • Bail permitees' license [IC 1802.5]
  • Bail solicitors' license [IC 1803]

Bail bond agents must comply with the following for licensure:

  • Be a continuous resident of the state of California for at least two years [IC 1805(a)]
  • Be of good moral character, reputation, and fitness to act in a fiduciary capacity [1805(b)]
  • Have no outstanding judgment of conviction of a misdemeanor or felony denounced by the CA code, or one of the elements of which involves a misappropriation of money or property [IC 1805]
  • File with the commissioner a surety bond of $1000 for proper handling of money collected [IC 1802]
  • Place a notice of appointment on file with commissioner by a surety insurer [IC 1802.1]
  • File an application in the form prescribed by the commissioner [IC 1804]
  • Take and pass a written examination given by the commissioner [IC 1810.5, 1810.6], to qualify for which the applicant must take 12 hours of classroom education in pertinent subjects [IC 1810.7(a)]
  • Complete at least six hours annually of continuing classroom education on pertinent subjects prior to renewal of license [IC 1810.7(a)]
  • Pay applicable license fees [IC 1811(a)]
  • File annual notices and applications to keep licenses in force and payment of fees by May 1 st annually [IC 1808]  

The regulatory body is the Insurance Department.


3. Notice of Forfeiture [PC 1305-1308]

 Upon the court's declaration of a forfeiture [PC 1305(a)(1)-(5)],

  • The clerk of the court must mail notice to both surety and bail agent within 30 days of the declaration [1305(b)]
  • The forfeiture period is 180 days extended by five days for mailing [1305(b)]

4. Forfeiture to Judgment

  • When the bond is forfeited, the court will enter a summary judgment against the bondsman in the amount of the bond plus costs [PC 1306(a)]
  • The district attorney or county counsel must demand immediate payment within 30 days after the summary judgment becomes final [PC 1306(e)(1)]
  • The clerk of the court must serve notice of the entry of judgment within five days of the date of the judgment [PC 1308(b)]
  • The court can extend the time period not to exceed 180 days from its order [PC 1305.4] or permit tolling [PC 1305(e)]
  • If a court grants relief from bail forfeiture, it may impose a monetary payment as a condition of relief to compensate for the actual costs of returning a defendant to custody. [PC 1306(b)]

5. Forfeiture Defenses

The California Penal Code establishes a number of conditions under which the forfeiture is set aside:

  • If the court fails to enter summary judgment within 90 days after the date upon which it may first be entered [PC 1306(c)]
  • If case is dismissed or no complaint is filed within 15 days of arraignment [1305(a)(5)]
  • If the clerk fails to mail forfeiture notice within 30 days or fails to mail to both agent and surety [1305(b)(1)-(3)]
  • If defendant is returned to court within the 180 period [1305(c)(1)-(3)]
  • If defendant is permanently disabled [PC 1305(d)], deceased or otherwise permanently unable to appear [PC 1305(d)(1)], temporarily disabled [PC 1305(e)(1)-(3)], or in custody beyond jurisdiction of the court [PC 1305(f)(g)]
  • If a motion is filed by the agent/surety within the 180 day period to be heard within 30 days of the expiration of the 180 day period [PC 1305(I)], 1305.4]
  • If the court has reason to believe there is a sufficient excuse for a failure to appear, it may continue the case for a period it deems reasonable [PC 1305.1]


6. Remission.

California has no remission period.

7. Bail Agent's Arrest Authority .

California Penal code allows the agent to arrest the principal himself or empower another to do so. [PC 1301].

A bail agent who engages in the arrest of a defendant must comply with the following:

[PC 1299.04(a)1-5]

  • Be at least 18 years of age.
  • Complete a 40-hour power of arrest course certified by the Commission
  • Complete a minimum of 12 hours of classroom education certified pursuant to Section 1810.7 of the Insurance Code.
  • Complete a course of training in the exercise of the power to arrest offered pursuant to Section 7583.7 of the Business and Professions Code.
  • The person shall not have been convicted of a felony.
  • Carry certificates of completion of the above requirements with him or her at all times in the course of performing his or her duties under this article.

Except in exigent circumstances, a bail agent must notify local law enforcement at least six hours prior to attempted apprehension of a defendant. [PC 1299.08(a)]

8. Other Noteworthy Provisions.

 A bail agent's license may also be held by a corporation [IC 1810(b)].

9. Noteworthy State Appellate Decisions.

County of Los Angeles v. Nobel Insurance Company , 101 Cal. Rptr. 2d 320 (2000).

Appellant executed a bail bond, and when the defendant failed to appear for trial, the trial court ordered his bail forfeited. The trial court extended the original 180-day period for the surety to move to vacate the forfeiture by an additional 180 days. A hearing was continued several times, the trial court finding good cause each time. Within 90 days after denying the motion to vacate judgment, summary judgment was entered against appellant, whose subsequent motion to vacate the judgment was denied. The Appellate Court affirmed the lower court's decision because the trial court had not lost jurisdiction to enter summary judgment more than 90 days beyond the 180-day extension. The extended 180-day period carried with it all of the provisions applicable to the first 180-day period, including the 30 days allowed for the hearing on the motion to vacate the forfeiture. The court found good cause to extend the hearing.

People v. American Bankers Ins. Co ., 264 Cal.Rptr. 152 (1989).

Issue: Unexcused Failure to Appear

If defendant fails to appear and court continues the matter without forfeiting bail, the excuse for defendant's failure to appear must be "on the record." After defendant failed to appear at his probation and sentencing hearing, the trial court continued the matter and ultimately ordered bail forfeited. Summary judgment was entered in favor of the People. The trial court denied the bail bond company's motion to vacate the summary judgment and to exonerate the bond. ( Superior Court of Orange County , No. C-63343, Myron S. Brown, Judge.)

The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's order denying the motion to vacate the summary judgment and exonerate the bond. The court held that where, as in this case, there is no indication on the record that either the defendant or defense counsel presented any information to the court which could be said to constitute a sufficient basis to entertain a reasonable belief that the defendant's nonappearance may have been with sufficient excuse. Thus, it held that the failure of the trial court to declare forfeiture of defendant's bail bond on the first day he neglected to appear for his probation and sentencing hearing deprived it of jurisdiction to later forfeit the bond, since there was nothing in the record to show that the trial court had any reason to believe sufficient cause existed for his failure to appear. (Opinion by Scoville, P.J. with Wallin and Sonenshine, JJ., concurring.)

People v. Frontier Pacific Ins. Co ., 74 Cal.Rptr.2d 316 (1998).

Issue: Unexcused Failure to Appear

If upon the non-appearance of a defendant, the trial court continues a case without forfeiting bail, and the surety later brings a motion for relief from a subsequently entered forfeiture, the court may not consider evidence not part of the record from the first hearing to determine whether there was a rational basis for a sufficient excuse.

In criminal prosecution, the Superior Court, Santa Clara County, No. 191155, Leonard B. Sprinkles, J., declared bail forfeited after defendant's second failure to appear for sentencing. Surety's motion to vacate forfeiture and exonerate bail was denied, and surety appealed. The Court of Appeal, Mihara, J., held that: (1) trial court lacked jurisdiction to forfeit bail bond upon defendant's second failure to appear, in absence of showing on the record that court found sufficient excuse at time of first nonappearance for defendant's absence; and (2) declaration submitted by district court in opposing motion to vacate forfeiture, detailing an alleged in camera discussion with judge at time of defendant's first nonappearance that allegedly explained his absence, did not change result. Reversed.

County of Madera v. Ranger Ins. Co. , 281 Cal.Rptr. 230 (1990).

Issue: Reinstatement Without Notice

County sought to recover from surety on bail bond when defendant failed to appear in criminal case. The Madera Justice Court, No. 020641, Victor C. Dahman, J., granted summary judgment in favor of county. Surety Appealed. The Court of Appeal, Dibiaso, Acting P.J., held that: (1) court may not reinstate defendant on previously forfeited bail bond without prior notice to the surety, and (2) failure of court to provide prior notice requires release of surety obligation. Reversed.

County of Orange V. Ranger Ins. Co., 71 Cal.Rptr.2d 811 (1998).

Issue: No Election Required by Prosecution Where Extradition Infeasible

In bail forfeiture proceedings, the trial court ruled that §Pen. Code, 1304, subd. (g), which provides for relief from forfeiture of bail when the prosecuting agency elects not to seek extradition after being informed of the location of a fugitive defendant, did not provide relief to a surety whose bond posted for a Mexican national convicted of drug offenses had been forfeited after defendant fled to Mexico. (Superior Court of Orange County, No. 95NF1458, David O. Carter, Judge.)

The Court of Appeals affirmed. The court held that §Pen. Code, 1305, subd. (g), applies to defendants in foreign countries, but that it not triggered when extradition is not feasible. The term "elect" implies a choice of options, and the implication is that the prosecutor will have the option whether or not to seek extradition. Accordingly, the court held that the prosecution, having given evidence of Mexico's demonstrated reluctance to extradite its own nationals for nonheinous offenses, was not required to make a formal request for defendant's extradition from the Mexican government, and the trial court properly found that extradition was infeasible. (Opinion by Sonenshine, Acting P.J., with Rylaarsdam and Bedsworth, JJ., concurring.)

People v. Ranger Ins. Co ., 78 Cal.Rptr. 2d 763 (1998).

Issue: When Is A Bailee Required to Appear in Court?

In a felony criminal prosecution, the trial court properly granted defendant's surety's motion to vacate the bail forfeiture ordered when defendant failed to appear at a hearing on a defense motion to continue the trial. The trial court lost jurisdiction when it failed to forfeit the bail bond two days earlier on the occasion of defendant's failure to appear at the master trial calendar hearing and so it was without jurisdiction to order the forfeiture two days later. Pen. Code, 1305, requires a defendant's presence at "trial," which includes the date set for the appearance in the master trial calendar department. If the court fails to declare forfeiture at that time, it loses jurisdiction and the bond is exonerated by operation of law. Even though defendant had executed a Pen. Code, 977, waiver, which allows a felony defendant to be absent on specific occasions, Pen. Code, 1305, which governs forfeiture procedure, was the more specific statute and thus it took precedence. When there is a conflict between a general and a special law, the special law must control.

[See 4 Witkin & Epstein, Cal. Criminal Law (2d ed. 1989) 2023 et seq.] (2) Bail and Recognizance §9 — Forfeiture of Bond or Deposit. The forfeiture or exoneration of bail is entirely a statutory procedure, and forfeiture proceedings are governed entirely by the special statutes applicable thereto (Pen. Code, 1305-1309). Because the law abhors forfeitures, these statutes are to be strictly construed in favor of the surety.

People v. Topa Ins. Co. , 38 Cal.Rptr.2d 167 (1995).

Issue: Timeliness of Entry of Summary Judgment

Summary judgment must be filed within 90 days after the date it may first be filed, or the trial court loses jurisdiction over the bond.

Surety filed motion to vacate forfeiture of, reinstate and exonerate bail bond. The Superior Court, Sonoma County, No. 16737, R. Bryan Jamar, J., granted summary judgment on forfeiture, and denied surety's motion to set aside summary judgment and exonerate bail. Surety Appealed. The Court of Appeal, Merrill, J., held that: (1) trial court was without jurisdiction to do anything other than enter summary judgment of forfeiture following expiration of 180-days period for seeking relief from forfeiture, absent tolling of 180-days period, and (2) trial court's failure to enter summary judgment forfeiting bail within 90 days after lapse of 180-day period for seeking relief from forfeiture meant that its jurisdiction to enter summary judgment had expired and bail was exonerated. Reversed.

People v. Ranger Ins. Co ., 59 Cal.Rptr.2d 777 (1996).

Issue: Notice

The court must give notice to the surety at its proper address. After receiving notice of summary judgment of forfeiture, surety on bail bond moved to discharge forfeiture, set aside judgment, and exonerate bail, based on procedural irregularities in giving of notice. The Superior Court, Santa Clara County, No. 172001, John A. Flaherty, J., denied motion. Surety appealed The Court of Appeal, Wunderlich, J., held that: (1) notice of original forfeiture forwarded to surety by defunct general agent to whom it was mailed achieved statutory goal of actual notice; (2) order, naming wrong surety, that surety reassume its obligations under reinstated bond was ineffective; and (3) even if reassumption had been effective, notice to address known to be incorrect was ineffective. Reversed.

People v. American Surety Ins. Co. , 92 Cal.Rptr.2d 216 (2000).

Issue: Deportation

Deportation of a bailee entitles the surety to relief from a forfeiture (and to have its liability extinguished). Surety which had posted bail for defendant who was arrested on drug charges, and who was unable to appear for preliminary hearing due to his deportation by Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), moved to vacate forfeiture and exonerate bail. The Superior Court, Ventura County, Nos. CR44361, 187541, John J. Hunter, J., denied motion. Surety appealed. The Court of Appeal, Yegan, J., held that defendant's deportation rendered him unable to appear due to "detention" by civil authorities, and thus operated under statute to exonerate bail. Reversed.

10. Bounty Hunter Provisions.

In September 1999, California enacted a law (A 243) regulating bounty hunters, termed "bail fugitive recovery persons" in the statute. This law added section 1299 to the California Penal Code. A bail fugitive recovery person is defined as one who has "written authorization" by a bail agent, surety, etc., (under PC 1300 and 1301) and is contracted to investigate, surveil, locate, and arrest a bail fugitive for surrender to appropriate authorities, or any person employed to assist in the arrest of such a fugitive.

Licensing Requirements. [PC 1299.04(a)(1)-(5)]:

  • Be at least 18 years of age.
  • Complete a 40-hour power of arrest course certified by the Commission
  • Complete a minimum of 12 hours of classroom education certified pursuant to Section 1810.7 of the Insurance Code.
  • Complete a course of training in the exercise of the power to arrest offered pursuant to Section 7583.7 of the Business and Professions Code.
  • Have no felony convictions.
  • Carry certificates of completion of the above requirements with him or her at all times in the course of performing his or her duties under this article.

Before apprehending a bail fugitive, an individual authorized by PC 1299.02 to apprehend a bail fugitive shall have in his or her possession proper documentation of authority to apprehend as prescribed in PC Sections 1300 and 1301. The authority to apprehend document shall include all of the following information: the name of the individual authorized to apprehend a fugitive, the address of the principal office of the individual, the name and principal business address of the bail agency, surety company, or other party contracting with the individual.