Being a bail bondsman can be risky business

Guest Columnist

Fortunately I’ve never needed a bail bondsman, but after interviewing Mark Derr, owner/agent of Day and Night Bail Bonds, I know what one could expect. I spent an hour with Derr and walked away with information overload regarding what he does. My preconceived idea of being bailed out of jail went something like calling a bondsman, pay him his fee, go home, go to court on the appointed day and time and either go home for good or go to the pokey. As I’ve been told before, I’m very naïve sometimes.

Derr began his profession in the early 1990s. He changed careers for a while, then decided to go back into the bail bonding business and has been doing this for the past seven years.

“I had to take a two-day course which encompassed learning about the laws involved and the, ‘do’s and don’ts’ about this profession,” Derr said. “I then had to take an exam through the state and after passing the exam I was licensed. For the first year I had to work under a supervising agent to learn all I could under his tutelage. At the end of the year I went out on my own and have been an independent agent since then.”

He told me he has to take a continuing education class yearly so he is up-to-date on the changes in the law. If he should ever fail to take these continued education classes his license would be revoked or suspended until he takes the required classes. He is licensed in every county in North Carolina and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

I asked about what happens when he posts bail for someone who has been arrested. He told me anyone who has been arrested has the right by law to receive a bail amount. If the person is able to post bail they are released from jail until their court date. They are still considered in custody, however, they are allowed certain freedoms outside of jail for the duration of their case. If they cannot post bail they stay in jail until their court hearing. An example of this would be if the bond is set at $10,000, the bondsman must put up $10,000 of his money for the individual to be allowed to leave the jail. The state of North Carolina regulates the amount a bondsman can ask for his fee and that amount is 15 percent.

Derr has a contract that must be signed by the individual and a co-signer must also sign it. I asked for a blank copy of his contract and I was amazed that there were six pages involved.

Three pages are terms the client has to agree to. He told me he encourages the individual as well as the co-signer to read through it entirely because by signing it they give up some of their rights until a court decision is made regarding their arrest.

If the individual goes to all appointed court dates and meets all the requirements involved until the completion of his case then the $1,500 goes to the bondsman. If the individual skips bail the state allows Derr a certain amount of time to find them, arrest them and bring them back. If the person is not found and brought back the bondsman loses his $10,000.

One of the changes in the law has been that the person who owes the bail money can now finance it and make weekly payments toward it. Derr said he may have lost his money once or twice in the span of a year.

I asked Derr what case he remembers most of all. He said a girl he had posted bond for skipped town. When it came time to pay the bond to the court he was unable to find her. Derr had to pay the bond amount then filed a remittance to the court to try to get the money back. He chased this girl for eight months and through three states before he found her. Her boyfriend took care of her so she had nothing in her name. He had to track the boyfriend in order to find her. Her case cost him approximately $5,000 in travel expenses.

I asked Derr if over the years he has developed a gut instinct or red flag regarding whether to take a case or not. He said he definitely has. He picks up on this during conversation and the paperwork that is filled out. Some people have a tendency to give themselves away within the first three minute of conversation by contradicting themselves when asked the same question a different way.

Derr has to hunt for his own skips in North Carolina. He is not allowed to hire “bounty hunters” for this. He said he does have a few other agents who work with him from time to time. He also uses a database like the one used by the FBI. Included in the contract the victim signs are such things as requirements that tracking devices are allowed to be placed on their vehicles, credit card purchases can be traced, etc. I mentioned to him that I had seen this on TV and wondered if in real life this was part of his way of finding skips.

He said most of the people who are bailed out are criminals and they don’t have credit cards or cars in their name. They know how to move under the radar so Derr has to be careful about how he tracks them.

However, the contract they sign lets them know they are giving away a lot of their rights until their case is closed.

I asked Derr if the police work well with bondsmen and he said not in Mecklenburg County, where he has another office. He said it bothers him because they are all considered officers of the court. The police take it personally if they arrest someone and in two hours the person is out of jail. The Lincoln County officers, especially the Sheriff’s Office, work very well with Derr. At times he has called on them for assistance and has met with no resistance.

During the years Derr was not using his bondsman experience he lived in Charlotte and owned two nightclubs.

He started a security business for quite a few entertainers such as Ice Cube, Boys 2 Men, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Johnny Winters, providing them with bodyguard services.