If you have the misfortune of being arrested, a bail bondsman can save you from awaiting your trial date behind bars. The bondsman puts up your bail, and you pay a fee for that service. If you appear in court on your court date, the court returns the bail money to the bondsman. If you do not appear in court, however, the bondsman is responsible for paying your bail in its entirety. Afterward, the bondsman will almost certainly pursue repayment of that bail from you or anyone else who posted bond on your behalf. Bail bondsmen have the same legal rights as any other creditor and, in some cases, may opt to garnish your wages.
No creditor can simply garnish your wages because you owe an unpaid debt. Before a bail bonds company can seize your assets, it must win a lawsuit against you. After winning a lawsuit, the bail bonds company receives a from the court that ultimately grants the company the ability to garnish your wages.
Like any debt collector, a bail bonds company only needs to prove its case to the court if you, the debtor, respond to the summons and appear in court. If you do not appear in court, the bail bondsman wins its case -- and subsequently, its judgment -- by default.
In your own defense, you or your attorney can demand that the bail bonds company provide documentation supporting its claim that you owe unpaid bail. In general, a creditor must provide the court with a copy of the debtor's original contract and any additional evidence that validates both the debt and the creditor's right to recover it.
Proving the Case
While it may be tricky for some creditors to prove a debt's legitimacy, a bail bondsman isn't likely to have this problem. Although legal requirements vary by state, bail bonds companies require you to fill out and sign an agreement to pay the bond fee and ensure that the defendant appears in court. If the bondsman requires collateral -- and many do -- separate documents will give those details. Given the relatively recent and considerable amount of paperwork involved with procuring a bail bond, it's unlikely that the bail bonds company would be unable to provide the court with sufficient proof that the debt is valid and the defendant owes it.
The Garnishment Process
After winning a judgment, the bail bonds company can apply with the court for a writ of execution. For a nominal fee, the sheriff's office serves the debtor's employer with the writ of execution. The employer is bound by law to then withhold and remit a portion of the debtor's wages to the bail bonds company.
State laws vary, but the garnishment process is relatively simple and similar in most states. There are, however, exceptions. The following states do not permit wage garnishment for commercial debt, and residents cannot have their wages garnished for unpaid bail bonds:
- South Carolina
- North Carolina
Terminating the Garnishment
The fastest way to stop the garnishment is to pay off the judgment that initiated it. If you feel you're being garnished unjustly, however, you can appeal to the court to overturn the judgment. If a judge rules the bail bonds company's judgment invalid, it loses its right to seize your assets and the garnishment stops.
If you have grounds to contest the judgment, you can file a motion with the court to have the judgment overturned. State laws vary considerably on what constitutes legitimate grounds to contest a judgment. Examples include:
- Improper notification of the lawsuit
- Reasonable inability to appear in court on the given date
- Fraud by the creditor