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As a non-American I was trying to understand the idea behind bail in the US and it seems to be a monetary deterrent large enough to make you go to court (assuming that you care about the money), but without crippling your life until then.

Donald Trump was released on a 200,000 USD bond. Such money is pocket change for him.

My question: what is the intent of the bond?

I can imagine other scenarios:

  • A release without a bond because there is no realistic threat of him fleeing
  • A symbolic 1 USD bond
  • A bond that reflects the idea I mentioned above, a very significant part of his wealth

To put things in perspective: a speeding ticket in Norway is 10% of your yearly income. This is intended to punish drivers "equitably" through a simple algorithm. It is far from being perfect but at least there is a formula behind it.

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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Law Meta, or in Law Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Pat W.
    Commented Aug 27, 2023 at 19:21

3 Answers 3

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The Fulton County Superior Court's bond order is online here.

It says

with consent of counsel for the State of Georgia and for the Defendant, the Court hereby GRANTS and ORDERS that bond is set in this matter as follows.

(Emphasis by me.)

It ends with

Consented to by:

followed by the signatures of the District Attorney Fanni T. Willis as well as representatives for the defendant: Drew Findling, in what was probably one of the last legal services rendered to Trump in this case, Marissa Goldberg and Jennifer Little.

The decision lists the various charges and their respective bond amounts as listed in another answer here, resulting in a total of $200,000, and then states:

Defendant may post bond as cash, through commercial surety, or through the Fulton County Jail 10% program.

I read this thus:

  • Whether bond is granted, and which amount is set, is at the discretion of the court.
  • This specific decision involved consultation with the prosecution and the defense who both agreed.
  • The "County Jail 10% program" is distinct from letting a bondsman pay the bond against a fee, but I was not able to locate online documentation about it.

CNN provides more detail:

The approval process

The approval process for consent bond orders involves prosecutors with Willis’ office and defense lawyers meeting and agreeing on the terms of the order. They then share the agreed upon order electronically with court staff of the judge assigned to the case.

The judge will look over the terms and if they agree with the framework, the judge will sign it and send the bond agreement to the clerk’s office before it is published publicly online.

If either prosecutors or defense lawyers cannot agree on a bond, a bond hearing with the judge would be scheduled.

CNN also states that

Trump election attorney John Eastman, who also surrendered on Tuesday, went with the 10% option, as did Hall.

Trump may have simply paid the bail in cash, avoiding additional fees.


Considering this information, I assume the following regarding your actual question:

  • The amount of bail is in the usual ballpark for the respective charges. Bail is typically not income dependent, which is a common criticism of the bail system: Poor people cannot afford bond and stay in prison, lose their jobs and their kids and their homes, while rich people stay out of prison and continue to live their normal lives. Some consider that unjust.
  • The judge could have released Trump "on own cognizance", without cash bond. But that would have been highly unusual for felonies. It might also not have found the consent of the prosecution. The court likely wanted to avoid any appearance of special treatment.
  • The court could have imposed a substantially higher bond. That would likely not have met the approval of the defense and roused the suspicion of special treatment, this time from the other side of the aisle.
  • The court could in theory have refused bail and kept Trump in prison. This would have been highly unusual unless there is a substantial flight risk or danger to the community. Given that Trump intends to run for President, the flight risk seems small, and because his crimes are not violent, the risk to the community is not immediate. It is noteworthy though that the court's bond order imposed restrictions on Trump's communication both on social media and with witnesses. Violating those may very well make the court revoke bail.

Bottom line: The court did the usual thing, surely in part exactly to do that. It also imposed a few restrictions specific to the case, with the implicit threat to revoke bail.

And I agree: The bail amount is an utterly ineffective flight deterrent for a defendant as resourceful as Trump. Setting bail is rather a ceremonial motion performed to create the appearance of a nominal procedure. By contrast, the restrictions regarding Trump's communication have teeth because violating them can get him in prison. Given Trump's refusal to let other people mediate his social media activity even as President, this will be hard for him, and my prediction is that conflict with the court over these provisions is likely.

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  • 4
    "By contrast, the restrictions regarding Trump's communication have teeth" - yes, to tell a presidential candidate to not say his position. Besides being against the constitution those teeth are election interference of the highest order.
    – TomTom
    Commented Aug 26, 2023 at 7:29
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    @TomTom Threats are forbidden; positions are not. Commented Aug 26, 2023 at 7:40
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    @Peter You need some common sense. A presidential candidate saying he is coming for corrupt people IS a threat AND it is allowed as long as i t does not explicitly say outside of the law. A lot of what Trump is accused of is "making an elephant out of a mouse" style reading, and your interpretation falls right into it.
    – TomTom
    Commented Aug 26, 2023 at 9:12
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    @TomTom A diligent reading of my post and comment will confirm that I did not offer any interpretation; I merely quoted and paraphrased the order. (You, on the other hand, did offer an interpretation.) As an aside, "common sense" is to a degree orthogonal to law discussions ;-). Commented Aug 26, 2023 at 10:20
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    "Some consider that unjust." surely you mean: "that's fucked up, and completely in contradiction with the principle of bail, part of it at least is to deter the accused from fleeing"?
    – njzk2
    Commented Aug 26, 2023 at 15:48
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So because of the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, unless the suspect poses a significant flight risk or danger to the public, they are usually granted bail, which is usually cash bail in nature. The reason for this is because it would be wrong to keep someone in jail until their trial which could take months if not years to complete as legally, they are innocent until a verdict of guilt is reached. As such, bail incentivizes the suspect to return for the scheduled trial while they are out of jail (That money is returned to you for coming to trial, regardless of outcome of said trial. There's a whole industry of Bail Bondsmen who are there to loan the money for bail to those charged with crimes... they make their money based on an up-front additional payment that is a % of the total bail. While it varies from state to state, the percentage is usually 10% for state charges and 15% for federal charges.)

The 8th Amendment to the United States Constitution reads that:

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

This means that bail (along with fines) is required to be set by statute and it's easier to set a single dollar value than a percent of income value. As such, Trump is given the bail he received because that is what the law sets bail at for the charges so that no one, rich or poor, is being treated any differently. While it may seem a pittance to a billionaire, most billionaires are actually pretty adverse to throwing away money on frivolities and became billionaires by reinvesting money they earn. The $200,000 taken from Trump is $200,000 he does not have going to work for him... or the state, since they don't use it either, but merely hold it and give it back to Trump on Court Date. Just because someone has more money than God, it does not mean they are not going to think very little of tossing away a six-figure value in a single day. Even ones who like to flaunt their wealth, that's $200,000 not going to a gold-plated toilet in the private jet.

As a note, the bail bond system is why the U.S. still has Bounty Hunters... though they typically like to be called "Bail Enforcement Agents". But essentially they are employed by Bail Bondsmen (or are themselves the Bail Bondsmen) to hunt down bail jumpers (clients who failed to appear) and bring them back in custody. Typically, failure to appear will not get you your money back, but for Bail Bondsman, bringing the jumper back to the law enforcement will result in that money being returned.

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    Thank you for your answer, it is very comprehensive, especially the part where you mention that there is a set amount for each of the charges and they sum up to 200k$. As a side note, I believe the answer would benefit from removing the part between "While" and "jet" as it is speculative (you can argue that 200k$ is objectively nothing compared to his wealth if he intended to flee, something the bail is supposed to deter). This is also the equivalent of 4€ for a good yearly salary (not wealth) in France, i.e. 3 baguettes.
    – WoJ
    Commented Aug 25, 2023 at 12:25
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    "Excessive" is such a broad term that quoting the amendment is useless without commentary. Commented Aug 25, 2023 at 16:01
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    The part of the penultimate paragraph starting with "While it may seem a pittance to a billionaire..." is just useless conjecture. We don't know how rich men feel about their money, and even if they value it a lot: Surely using $200,000 (which is maybe in the order of magnitude of 1/1000 of his net worth) to avoid a prison term is extremely well invested money, both economically (because you can continue to conduct business better from Russia or wherever than from prison) and because freedom is worth a lot to most people. Commented Aug 25, 2023 at 16:06
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    Btw., the Wikipedia article on bail states that the 8th Amendment "does not apply to defendants charged in state courts", like Trump in Georgia. Commented Aug 25, 2023 at 16:11
  • "Excessive" has never been truly adjudicated.
    – Tiger Guy
    Commented Aug 25, 2023 at 18:31
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Despite the Posts above, the true Answer is that Trump's bail has no practical point.

Is it not obvious that Trump 'knows' he's going to win, because he 'knows' he's right, because of which the bail conditions could never apply?

Let's remember, bail is only used to encourage defendants to appear in court, which it seems Trump would welcome

As suggested above, a minxy little $200,000 is pocket change to anyone like Trump - unless he's been forging his public records and isn't really a billionaire.

Beyond the cash, ask yourselves how much Trump might be troubled by having to pack up and leave; not just his home, or his home county or state but leave the USA?

Take a step back and consider in what way Trump's lifestyle is comparable to that of John Doe or any but the tiniest percentage of US denizens.

Consider further how it could hurt Trump to rebuild Trump Towers, with every square inch of gold leaf, on his current Scottish golf course, or anywhere else?

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  • If the money was pocket change, then it seems odd that he accepted a bondsman, only paying $20,000 which he can never get back. He could have paid the $200,000 himself, with a guarantee it would be returned. after the trial. But he didn't.
    – trlkly
    Commented Aug 28, 2023 at 7:00
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    @trlkly : if he invests that 200k then he might make a lot more money than 20k by the time all things are settled. Or at least he might think that way.
    – vsz
    Commented Aug 28, 2023 at 7:04
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    @trlkly Rich people have issues of liquidity. They may be worth billions of dollars, but most of that is in property and other things which aren't actual money, and whose actual value isn't known until they go to sell it. It takes effort to convert illiquid wealth into liquid wealth (money)--often this is done by a loan, with the property etc. as collateral--, and the trouble/interest involved in converting about 200k probably just wasn't worth it, whereas 20k is probably a level of liquid wealth that is kept available as a matter of course. Commented Aug 28, 2023 at 7:45
  • Re "ask yourselves how much Trump might be troubled": It is not inconceivable that a man as well known and as well connected as Trump would decide to spend the last years of his life in a luxury resort in Russia, for example, instead of in prison. Commented Aug 28, 2023 at 8:31
  • @zibadawatimmy But rich people also don't waste money when they don't have to. I can buy the argument that he thought he could make more money than he's going to pay. But I don't buy that he would just pay $20k to avoid getting out $200,000. I could buy that he has overvalued assets that would get found out, though.
    – trlkly
    Commented Aug 28, 2023 at 13:44

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