If you or a loved one has the bad judgment and bad luck to be nabbed for theft, criminal damage to property, multiple DWIs or an even more serious crime, you’ll probably come in contact with a bail bondsman sooner rather than later. But do you know how bail bonds work?

A defendant is sometimes held in jail without bail or released on his or her own recognizance. More often, though, judges have time for only a cursory look at the crime and a defendant’s criminal history before setting a bail amount, a financial guarantee that the accused will show up for all future court appearances.

“A judge really has to exercise their best judgment,” said District Judge Terrence Conkel, chief of the First Judicial District.

Rick Briggs, CEO of AAA Discount Bail Bonds, based in Buffalo, Minn., said the industry standard among bail bondsmen is to charge a nonrefundable fee of 10 percent of the bail amount. The company then posts a surety bond with the court. If a defendant fails to show up, the bonding company has 90 days to capture him or her before the full amount comes due. Companies also require a cosigner, who is liable for the full amount if the defendant flees.

One such case was Gordon Weaver, accused in 1999 of killing his wife at their White Bear Lake home. He was released on $300,000 bail and disappeared. Whoever cosigned the bail bond likely lost whatever collateral used to guarantee it.

Weaver was found 4½ years later living in a small town in Oregon. After much legal wrangling, he was convicted and is serving a 19-year sentence.

Some judges have started setting a bail amount with a 5 or 10 percent cash option, payable to the court. Briggs said he doesn’t think that’s a good idea.

“When someone’s released on $500 cash bail and they fail to appear, there’s nobody looking for them,” he said. “Their name goes into the system, but if they leave the state, there’s nobody looking for them.”

He remembered one violent offender from Alexandria, Minn., who jumped bail and was recaptured two years later in Texas by a bounty hunter. That bounty hunter had been hired by AAA Discount Bail.