Michael Jackson’s stay in police custody was brief, as he quickly posted a $3 million bail bond. What’s going to happen to that small fortune in bail money?
The cash portion of the bond will be placed in a non-interest-bearing account, where it will remain until the molestation charges are either adjudicated or dropped. At that point, the money will be returned to whoever put it up, whether that’s Jackson himself or an associate. It’s unclear exactly what percentage of his bail was paid in cash, but courts typically require at least 10 percent of the total bond in cash. The remainder can be collateralized with real estate, vehicles, or other assets.
The purpose of bail money, of course, is to guarantee a defendant’s appearance at trial, which is why the amount is returned once the matter is settled (usually minus a small administrative fee). If Jackson flees or otherwise violates the terms of his release, however, the bond could be forfeited to the Santa Barbara County general fund. But the California Penal Code also states that a fugitive’s bail money can be used to reimburse law-enforcement agencies “for the costs of returning [the] defendant to custody.” So if the King of Pop does go on the lam, Santa Barbara authorities could ask that their manhunt costs be deducted from the $3 million bond. A judge would have final say over whether to grant such requests.
Bail money can also be used to pay prior fines or other court-ordered payments (e.g., child support), provided the defendant himself ponied up the sum. So if Jackson has any outstanding fines to pay, now’s the time for those creditors to ask for the dough. But if somebody else put up the bail, then legal claims cannot be made.
In these lean economic times, many county governments have tried to raise additional money by more aggressively pursuing forfeited bail bonds. Surety companies, which often guarantee the bonds of people less well off than Jackson, are supposed to pay up when a defendant skips town. But they often renege on their obligation and fight tooth and nail any government efforts to collect. According to the Record, a New Jersey newspaper, Passaic County is owed almost $14 million from forfeited bonds dating back to 1999. As of this April, it had collected less than 10 percent of that sum.