If you are unfamiliar with the term "signature bond," the name provides a clue about how they work. However, the process isn't quite as simple as signing your name to a contract. In reality, signature bonds represent a serious promise from you, and breaching that promise can have significant legal consequences.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Often used for people with lesser offenses, a signature bond offers a way to avoid paying cash or asset-backed bail while allowing the person to stay out of jail before a trial.
Definition of Signature Bond
You might have heard of the term "posting bond." If you've been arrested, you can often post bond to remain free during the time between your arrest and your trial date. In many instances, posting bond means paying a specific amount in cash; alternatively, you might have a bail bondsman post bond for you, or you might pledge assets, such as a house, as security in exchange for being released from jail.
However, a signature bond, also called a recognizance bond, allows you to get out of jail without posting cash or assets as securities. They're getting more common as many cities and states look to reduce the number of people held in jail who aren't actually security risks.
Use for Misdemeanor Charges
If you're charged with a misdemeanor, you can almost always post bond and be released. If you don't have the means for a cash bond, a bail bondsman or a property bond, the judge may allow you to go free anyway while you wait for your trial date by granting you a signature bond. If you've previously paid to post bond, the judge often converts the bond to a signature bond when you make an initial court appearance, which means your bond is refunded.
If you're charged with a felony, it's less likely, but not impossible, that you will be released on a signature bond. If you pay to post a bond to be released on a felony charge, the judge probably won't convert your bond to a signature bond when you make your initial court appearance. Once you pay to post bond for a felony charge, the court will hold the bond until your trial is over, when it will be returned. However, the court may deduct court costs, restitution and fines from the bond, before returning the balance to you.
Failure to Appear in Court
A signature bond is a pledge on your part to appear in court on scheduled court dates. Depending on the charge, you may need to appear in court yourself, or your attorney may appear in court on your behalf. If you or your attorney fails to appear in court on a scheduled court date without providing a good reason, such as an emergency, the judge will likely revoke your signature bond immediately, and issue a bench warrant for your arrest. Once you're arrested for failure to appear in court, you may have to remain in jail until your trial date.
Chris Blank is an independent writer and research consultant with more than 20 years' experience. Blank specializes in social policy analysis, current events, popular culture and travel. His work has appeared both online and in print publications. He holds a Master of Arts in sociology and a Juris Doctor.