Allison Schrager: Welcome to Risk Talking, a podcast about economics. I'm your host, Allison Schrager, and today I am joined by Nick Lindblad. He is a second-generation bail bondsman in Honolulu, Hawaii. So he has all sorts of insights that we don't usually have access to. So I'm excited that we're going to talk today about all sorts of things, and particularly the market for bail bonds, how he manages risk around who he decides to give a bond to, and outlooks for the industry. So thank you so much for joining me.
Nicholas Lindblad: Thanks for having me. I'm really pumped up to be here.
Allison Schrager: Great. I want to tell everyone, the way we met is so interesting. You read my first book about risk and how to manage risk and really, it was based on financial economics, and you read it and you're like, "Deciding who gets a bail bond is a lot like picking a stock."
Nicholas Lindblad: Yeah, absolutely. I remember seeing you on Downtown Josh Brown's YouTube channel and it was just so interesting the different ways and the different industries and how each is so different and specific. And bail bonds is just like that. It's very unique, it tends to be run by family-owned businesses that hand down the information from generation to generation on the dos and the don'ts. And even within the industry, everybody's got their own little version of how to do it and how to minimize risk. And in our game, maybe we'll get to what a bail bond actually is. The whole point is to only bail out people that A, you think are going to go to court or else you lose money, or B, you think that you could apprehend and put back into the system so you don't lose money. So that money is a key component to make sure we actually deliver once we get somebody out of custody.
Allison Schrager: Yeah. I really want to dig all into that. But first I feel like lot of our listeners aren't really familiar with the industry. I'd like to talk about exactly what a bail bond is and how this all just works.
Nicholas Lindblad: Yeah. Bail bonds 101, really simple. It's just a promise. It's a guarantee that once a bonding agent gets somebody out of custody, it's a guarantee that once they're—heavy air quotes here, I know you can't see it, but I'm doing air quotes here—once you're out on bail, you return to court for all your court appearances until the case is over. Now, the key thing that I mentioned earlier is, every bail in tandem is assigned a bail amount.
So if I bail somebody out for, let's just say, $1,000, well it's not as major of a decision as when you bail somebody out for like $100,000, because if somebody just goes to court, you're all good. However, if for example, they don't go to court, you are out either that small amount, $1000, or you could be out $100,000 if it's a really big bond. So yeah, the money does matter.
Allison Schrager: So if someone's arrested, and the bail is set for them to go home, you would put up the money on their behalf with the promise that, "I will get this person back for their court date."
Nicholas Lindblad: Absolutely, and I'm glad you put it that way. There's really a few different ways that people can get out of custody, and every jurisdiction is a little bit different in what they prefer, but there's three ways out of custody. So we'll go into a deep dive on bail bonds 101. There's just posting cash, which we'll take the easy example, $10,000. If you happen to have $10,000, a family member just has cash on hand, you could literally just take that to the station, get out on bail, the courts will keep that $10,000. It's like an incentive to be like, "Hey, you got to come to court." And then at the end of your case, the courts will return the $10,000 to whoever posted it. It's common to just post it in your own name. Sometimes you post it in that third party's name who brought it to the station, but cash is number one. That's the ideal way to do it.
Now, for people who, say for example, don't have access to all that money. Maybe it's a Sunday, or maybe, like most Americans, shoot, you just don't have it, right? Then you go ahead and hire a bail agent to post a bail bond. Instead of giving them $10,000 cash, we give them a bail bond saying, "Hey, this bail bond's worth $10,000. It guarantees that the person goes to court and that's a way out." Now lastly, because I know this is a big topic, bail reform and all that, there's always just getting out on your own recognizance or being released with conditions. It might be checking in with an intake service worker, or staying away from a certain area, or being a curfew. They can give you all these different directions, but you can get out without posting any security. And the downside to that is one, you got to qualify and then two, you got to wait till court the next morning and hope that you get it. So does that make sense? The three different ways that you can get out?
Allison Schrager: So if you post a bond for someone and they don't show up, you're on the hook for $10,000?
Nicholas Lindblad: Yeah, that's the problem. So you got to be really careful on who you bail out. And sometimes the best decision that you make is actually not to post a bond because you can't be in business when you continually write bad bonds, right? There's just no way to stay in business if you have a bunch of forfeitures.
Allison Schrager: What percentage of bonds you write forfeit?
Nicholas Lindblad: I'm super conservative. I try to have zero loss. But for me, I decided, and let me give you some data so you and your listeners can understand what it's like to be a bondsman. So I probably write anywhere in the vicinity of 150 to 200 bail bonds in a year, just a small family company in Hawaii. And of those, back in 2021, I had a really rough year, I had 15 forfeitures and that was not fun. You literally get an envelope from the prosecutor's office as well as the court cashier saying, "You have to pay $5,000, $11,000, $20,000," whatever the amount of the bail is. And when you get 15 of those in a year, that means every few weeks or sometimes boom, two in a week, and then you get a few weeks’ reprieve, there's a certain stress that you get when you have so much money that you owe.
And you have to get so many people either one, back in custody the hard way, which means hiring a fugitive recovery team. That's what most people know as like bounty hunting on television, Dog the Bounty Hunter-style, or a majority of those really is just people who make a goof. But you don't know that when you get the letter, you got to call the family. You got to say, "Hey, is Johnny on track? Is he still living with you? Can we get him back in touch with his public defender?" All that stuff. It's a complete drain.
And to answer your question, I decided that I was going to sleep easy and I just wanted the peace that you have by writing conservatively. You might write less bail, but then you just get a little pickier. And I find that living that life where you're really never trying to have a loss. You don't write liberally, you just do a conservative, mom and dad, bailing out the kid, family members. You don't go too far outside of that. That's been really great for me so that I just have that peace of mind.
Allison Schrager: So how are you paid? You get a percentage of the bond the person pays you? If it's a $10,000 bond, they'll pay you $1,000?
Nicholas Lindblad: Yeah, the industry standard is 10 percent. Different jurisdictions have different file ratings. So say for example, you're in Las Vegas, they're a 15 percent state. Say for example you're in Hawaii, our standard fee is 10 percent. Now we are allowed to, if you really want to fight for a bond . . . And it's almost like somebody with great credit, you're applying for a home loan and everything checks out, cash on hand, you're at very low risk to default on whatever the amount of the money that the bank is giving you. Sometimes when I really want to bond, I will discount. But it's pretty rare in order to stay in business, because no matter how good you are at underwriting, you always miss a few. Nobody bats a thousand in the world of surety. So you do have to charge that 10 percent, and it's important that you don't get a little too outside of the box, because you're only in business while you're in business, to make it really simple. And if you're out of business because you know don't have any reserves, there's not much you could do. You're not in the game.
Allison Schrager: Do you charge more if someone's higher risk?
Nicholas Lindblad: Absolutely. I know that sounds bad, but higher risk means higher premium owed. So perfect example. . . Do you mind if I give you—
Allison Schrager: Oh, please. Examples are fun.
Nicholas Lindblad: Yeah, very high risk. Very, very, very, very, very, very, very high risk. A guy got convicted of a serious class A felony, and in a criminal case you could go to trial and then the verdict can be guilty. But then oftentimes, not every time, but oftentimes, there could be several weeks or months by the end of the trial, the timeline all the way into the point that you report for sentencing. So in certain cases you get taken in—and this is a legal term—forthwith which means right on the spot. You lost your trial, they take you into custody, there's no shot for you to get a little antsy and maybe take off because you know you're out on bail, you lost your trial and you're going to go to jail.
And if you got a few weeks to just stew on it, that's a risk factor. That's an increased risk factor. So I had a client, he beats some of the charges, but the class A, he lost on. He's probably going to have to go to jail for a number of years, probably not more than 10, but he's going to jail. He did lose his trial. So the way that we don't just take somebody's word for it, like the defendant, what makes a bond safe is when you have family members that you can count on that are high-character, trustworthy, that sign the agreement as co-signers to guarantee that the defendant goes to court. So that's a concept I didn't explain. We don't just get people out of jail and then hope that they go to court. We take calls from family members, employers, people who know the defendant well, who are interested in signing a document saying, "I, co-signer, mom and dad," as an example, "Will sign this legal paperwork saying we guarantee that he goes to court or else we," these co-signers, "Are financially liable for the $10,000.”
Now, let's be real. One of them was a citizen, the other one wasn't a citizen. Its one of those households where the uncle owned the house, and we had to get the uncle to sign, because originally the uncle wasn't involved and we didn't take a lien on the house, but we could have. Or actually, excuse me, we took a lien on the house. So originally we didn't have a lien on the house, and then we did post a higher bond for him. It was a very large bond. The original was $100,000. Right when he lost his trial, they increased the bail to a really high number. I don't want to say, but at least double what we posted. They took him in, we bailed him out—
Allison Schrager: So you're arraigned and you post bail before your trial? Are you saying you have bail after your trial? What's the timeline on this?
Nicholas Lindblad: Okay, so the reason why we posted the second bond for the exact same case was the judge, and I probably should've mentioned that. The judge increased the bail right then and there.
Allison Schrager: So before the trial started. Why do you increase the bail?
Nicholas Lindblad: That was a way to make sure that the defendant stayed in custody, pending sentencing. You just increased the bail right then and there.
Allison Schrager: Oh, so after he was convicted but awaiting sentences, he had to post another bond?
Nicholas Lindblad: Yeah.
Allison Schrager: Oh, I didn't realize that. Oh, geez. Yeah, that seems like a high-risk situation for you.
Nicholas Lindblad: Yeah, because any time in the world of bail-bond surety, the bond that's probably the highest-risk is when you're posting bail just before sentencing. Because let's be real, what if someone just doesn't plan on going to court? They post bond specifically so that they could take off. Right? Crazy. But we mitigated those risks just in case people want to be like, "Yo, how did you get that done? Why are you so crazy? Why would you get yourself involved in a case like that?"
Well, one, the family around the defendant, super high-character people. I could count on these people. And that's something that doesn't translate on a spreadsheet. It's that human factor where you know these family members, you can count on. The one family member who signed wasn't a citizen, which if you're going by the book, you can't really try to get a judgment against somebody who's a non-citizen. Good luck. There's not much to sue when he is a non-citizen. You're wasting your time trying to sue somebody in court if they're a non-citizen. You could always just go back to your home country and that's that. But the character mattered. We were able to get one of the family members who owned a house to sign, and we put a lien on the house. And just in general, if you're able to get a lien on a house, for the most part, it's pretty rare that you lose. So does that make sense?
Allison Schrager: Yeah. And did he show up for court?
Nicholas Lindblad: To be continued. Sentencing coming up. We shall see. But I don't lose any sleep over it because I've been put at ease by the mortgage lien and, more importantly, the family.
Allison Schrager: Do you think being in Hawaii increases or decreases the odds someone's going to show up for court? I mean, just because it's an island, it's far away from the rest of the country.
Nicholas Lindblad: It depends. It's still risky. It's just that the risk factors are different. You could get into Hawaii and you could technically be from the Philippines, you could be from the Marshall Islands, which a lot of people know as Micronesian. From Guam, Chuuk. You could be from a number of different places, because we're such a big tourist mecca, and whether you're a green card holder or you're just on vacation, you have different risk factors.
Let's say I bail somebody out who's from American Samoa. They're in Hawaii legally, but what's to say they couldn't just go right back to American Samoa, and now I can't really get them back into custody and I lose my bond? That's happened. I've bailed out students that are Japanese-speaking students, really solid people who they overstay their visas and they have to go back to Japan, and it's while a case is pending. And I've lost and I've paid forfeitures on.
Allison Schrager: Did they break the law on top of it? Or they just arrested for overstaying their visa?
Nicholas Lindblad: The visa situation with one of my former clients who literally got a letter saying that he had to leave because he overstayed his visa. He had to comply with that.
Allison Schrager: Wait, did he break the law too? Is that why he needed a bond?
Nicholas Lindblad: Yeah, he previously had an incident with his girlfriend where the police charged him with abuse of a household member. But it was one of those things where you get into an argument with somebody and somebody calls the police, and he technically didn't resolve his case. He was right back with the girlfriend. They were in my office. But he had to leave, and the judge just wasn't having it. And I paid a forfeiture on exactly that situation. So it is different whether you're, I don't know, in the mainland and you have people that might go across the border or might go fly to some other jurisdiction, it's just a different version of risk in the islands. You could always just go back to the Philippines, right? Or this example we just talked about. Visa overstay, your case is still pending, you got to go back and I'm screwed. I get left holding the bag.
Allison Schrager: Well, is it also easier, as I said, if you decide to retrieve someone yourself? Easier being on an island to find them?
Nicholas Lindblad: Yes and no. I think you do one, bounty hunt, you head on out to the west side of the island, you hear somebody's homeless, you go up and down the homeless encampment, you meet a whole bunch of characters who are not particularly enthused to talk to you, and they think that you're a cop. It's very difficult to have a person with you and then go looking for somebody. We usually subcontract that out to people who can operate in that world. It's a very unique skillset where you can go back and forth. It's very difficult to locate somebody who doesn't necessarily want to be located.
Allison Schrager: I mean, other than Dog who, I guess, was started in Hawaii, is there a population of bounty hunters you can use in Hawaii, or do they have to come from somewhere else?
Nicholas Lindblad: There are. They're in and out. It's a very interesting career path. I've never been able to just marry myself to one that I could count on. It was great back in the Dog days, that was when I wrote pretty liberally. Why? Because if they skipped, all I had to do was call up Dog and he had a whole squad ready to go. Imagine what it was like for me knowing that if I had a forfeiture, I could literally just call up Dog, he has a television show where he's got his wife, he's got his children, they're all suited up. They'll go out to the west side, they'll like knock on doors, they'll get information from leads, they'll track a person down, they'll get tips, and then, boom.
Anybody who ever thinks that it's as easy as just snapping your fingers and getting somebody back into custody, how about you go out to the west side, where it's dangerous, into somebody's yard where they got pit bulls and you're kicking in a door? People are misrepresenting the truth to you left and right. People might be on drugs, they might have mental health issues. You might be kicking in a door to a gambling house. Who knows? It is gnarly and it is very difficult, it is dangerous, and that's why I like to live a life where I just say no more often and I don't have losses. That's my road.
Allison Schrager: How much do you have to pay bounty hunter?
Nicholas Lindblad: It's usually the same as the fee. Typically, it's about 10 percent. It's negotiable, but typically by standard going rate, you write a $20,000 bond, you got to go find a $20,000 skip. You pay that bounty hunter the 10 percent, two grand, right there.
Allison Schrager: So if they retrieve the guy and you pay him, you don't get anything in the end because that was your fee?
Nicholas Lindblad: All right, so in our contract we are allowed to charge expenses, but a lot of times when things go south, I mean, it's just a piece of paper. You could take it to court, get a judgment. It's just a piece of paper. Again, a lot of times you're dealing with people who might not even have bank accounts and who could just decide, "I'm just not going to pay you," and that's that. They're not going to take your call, they're going to make it difficult to be served, they're not going to show up to court. You'll get a judgment. But what good is that piece of paper? You're still not paid. Every once in a while you get somebody who pays. But that's the exception, not the rule.
Allison Schrager: So what do you look for in a bond? What makes you feel secure that this person's going to show up?
Nicholas Lindblad: It comes down to the defendant and it comes down to the family. So I have one outstanding forfeiture right now. My one headache. And quick background on that is it was a risky bond. I did the mother a solid, I am a sucker for a story here and there, just like anybody else. And it was a university professor, and I got along well with the mom, and she wanted to give her druggie son one more shot. Now I knew I probably should have just said no. It was a small bond, wasn't even much money. As a human, I just wanted to be involved in her helping the son redeem himself because I fell for that, "This time it's different," trap. But sometimes it's more than just the money.
I wanted to help this wonderful woman. She gets the kid out, big-time substance-abuse problem, and people who know about those who are on that substance-abuse recovery track, you have your good days and your bad, and sometimes things go south and the kid's right back on the streets, he's homeless. He or she would, at that phase, they'd rather be out on the streets, not having any obligations, not having to go check in with anybody. They'd rather just be out on the streets, and they're under the cloud of the drug. They're not the same person.
So I bail out the kid, everything's good for months. The mom has a turn in her health. This creates a downward spiral. He's out on the streets, the mom shortly thereafter dies. I'm stuck with a $7,000 forfeiture where I can't close a judgment on a dead person. So I have to find this guy, or I'm out seven grand. He's just homeless substance abuse guy and I'm doing my best to find him right now, which is why I was talking about finding a guy who's homeless. It's very difficult. They're transient in nature.
Allison Schrager: And as you said, you have to connect with the community of homeless people to get information, which is hard.
Nicholas Lindblad: Very difficult. Very difficult niche of people to get reliable information from. You know what I mean? It's not like talking to Allison Schrager, financial expert about annuities. It's not a clear A to B conversation. It could go in all different types of directions. I mean, the person might not even know, right? They're just talking bubbles. It's very difficult. Yeah.
Allison Schrager: Do you find you're dealing with more mentally ill people than you used to?
Nicholas Lindblad: So here's my thought on the whole mental-illness cohort, especially out on the streets; so there's legit people who have mental health issues who need help. But then there's also, and this is all feelings, no facts, this is just my observation, I've been doing this for over 15 years, and I've actually gone out and seen these people. I've worked with these people. I've seen people that I've bailed out become great success stories, and it feels really fulfilling. I've also bailed out people where at the time it was a second chance, which this is America, you have to give people a second chance or third or fourth. Substance abuse, that's just how it goes. You need several chances before it's your time to finally make that change.
But I've also seen people I've bailed out and I was like, "Whoa," this person with the cart, and they're 100 percent disheveled, and you could tell they haven't slept in, who knows? Days at least. And they've lost weight. And it's just really sad, because when I bailed them out and they're on track and they finished their case, I'm off the liability. But then later I'll see that exact same person out on the streets, 25 pounds lighter. And you just know it didn't work out over the long term. It's really tough. So the second piece of that is it's when people get hooked on drugs over a prolonged period that then in turn either amplifies existing mental health issues or, in my opinion, no science behind this, I think you could create just weird mental health issues through prolonged drug use. You're just not the same. It affects your mind in such a way where I think the two are intertwined and interconnected. And I don't really know how to give you statistics on it, but it's just what I see.
Allison Schrager: Do you know Alex Tabarrok? He's a writes Marginal Revolution with Tyler Cowen.
Nicholas Lindblad: I do not. Hit me with it.
Allison Schrager: Oh, well, because he's actually done quite a bit of work on bail bonds as an economist in crime.
Nicholas Lindblad: No way.
Allison Schrager: Yeah. And he pointed out something really interesting to me, which is the whole bail thing has gotten a bad name, and there's been a lot of some misguided bail reform. There's risk to it, because everyone just thinks it's all bad. But he said that bail bondsman actually, in some ways, serve as very effective social workers in that you're calling the guy, be like, "Don't forget to go to your court date." And in fact, if they do have to be retrieved by you or a bounty hunter, that is actually more desirable than being hunted down by the police. And that in some ways this is sort of a better situation even for the defendant.
Nicholas Lindblad: It's a hundred percent better. And I'm going to sound sanctimonious and self-serving, but people demonize money. I mean, it's in vogue once again to just demonize money, but it's not moral or amoral. It really is just a tool. And when you're attached to a court obligation and by contract and you have a license. Just to keep your license, when you have to deliver, when you've got skin in the game, it's a completely different level of commitment and dedication to that person versus somebody who, say, for example, not trying to take shots, but this is the compare and contrast that I want everybody to look at; if you know you're going to get paid no matter what and you know you can't get fired, I mean, how likely are you on a Sunday to go spend half a day out on Skid Row, putting yourself in danger, when nothing's going to really change one way or the other, versus the person who will lose their license, could go out of business and has to find somebody because oh, by the way, there's 10 grand on the line?
It's that money that incentivizes the bonding agent to make sure that they stay in contact with their public defender, make sure that once they're out, they actually report to the treatment program, make sure that they stay away from certain areas because it'll be a violation of condition of release. If I don't go and find my latest headache, and it is a huge headache, if I don't go and find him—here's the thing; with my one forfeiture right now, it's all set up for him to just go to court, get sentenced and get a deferral, which means he's going to get the deferred track. He's not even going to jail. He just has to show up to sentencing and accept the deal. And when you're under the cloud of drugs, you'll totally flake out on a final court appearance to accept probation. You know what I mean? I'm tied to it financially. And that's a whole different thing than somebody who no matter what, they're still going to eat and they're going to be fine because they're getting paid
Allison Schrager: Well, the other thing Alex pointed out, and I even hear this with you talking about your clients—is that what you call them?
Nicholas Lindblad: They're my clients. Absolutely.
Allison Schrager: Isn't even the fact they're your clients, you have a mutual interest in this guy showing up for court. And so as opposed to if you have law enforcement do it, it's inherently adversarial. I mean, when you talk about your clients, you're much more understanding and sympathetic than say maybe I would be, and I don't know these people. I'm like, "They broke the law." But I mean, I think you seem to see these people more sympathetically. Maybe because, as I said, you deal with them more, you have a better sense of who they are, and you are in business with them in a sense.
Nicholas Lindblad: Yeah, they're real people, and there's nobody out there that hasn't done something stupid. It could have been a one-time thing. And there's so many different situations in which you could find yourself where you've been exposed to a criminal liability, but by trade you're not a criminal. There are some hardcore people who don't care about the wellbeing of others. They will rob, cheat, and steal as a matter of their due course in life. But then there's also a large, overwhelming majority of people where . . . I mean, I have a lot of military clients. A kid who's 20-something, has been in a submarine for three months, comes back to land, has a crazy night, or he is out with his other buddies, and they're drinking, and he gets into a bar fight, Assault 2. C class felony.
You know what? This is a service member. He just had a bad night. It's okay. He could hire an attorney, see the charges through, hopefully it's something where he can get the case dismissed, or maybe he could just get some sort of plead down to a lower offense, like a misdemeanor version of assault and then move on with his life. For the most part, a lot of people just have a moment where they might have done something wrong. And yes, you can't just lock him up and throw away the key. They're real people too.
Allison Schrager: I mean, you said, you mentioned your father was in this too. I mean, how did your family get into this business?
Nicholas Lindblad: My dad is one of the very rare individuals. It's quite polarized in the world of release in general. You have pretrial justice organizations who despise bail bondsmen as if right now when I'm talking to you, I had to put my horns away and my tail to the side. They just won't ever see what bail agents do as productive to society. And there's no convincing them otherwise.
Allison Schrager: Wait. Who are those people who think that?
Nicholas Lindblad: There's some pretrial justice people that will just say—
Allison Schrager: What's that mean?
Nicholas Lindblad: Oh, pretrial. Okay. There's a contingent of people who do not believe in pretrial detention, period.
Allison Schrager: Oh, like activists?
Nicholas Lindblad: Activists, yes. And there's no convincing them. There is never a situation where you've been accused of a crime, despite any amount of evidence against you, you should never be detained pretrial. And that's a radical view, because you and I both know there could be a preponderance of evidence saying it's likely somebody did something, and to protect public safety. If you have, say for example, a person who's accused of murder, you might want to not have them be eligible for bail, right? If they're likely to harm or intimidate a witness in a case, you could put them away without bail. If they're looking at a life sentence, and there's other extenuating circumstances, a history of violence, there are a few situations where you absolutely should have people in custody pretrial. Now, I'm not saying everybody, but there are some people for a small amount of time, they should be in custody.
And for them to be out in custody, there should be either a release with conditions after a judge says that it's all right, there should be family members who go to a bail agent and hire a bail agent to guarantee that once they're out, they go back to court. Or, shoot, like I said in the very beginning, you could always post cash. It could be you got pot for a DUI, and it's a small bail. Once you sober up, you should be allowed to post bail, and then hopefully you don't drink and drive right thereafter. But after that little period and you do get released, you could live your life and move on. So there is a time where I think people should, not indefinitely, based on a lot of different factors, should be in custody. I know, complicated.
Should I take a little stop? You have those people who, they just don't like bail agents no matter what you do. And as bail agents, we don't really pay attention to them so much. We don't try to legislate them out of existence. For the most part, we're pretty even where we think for the people who are indigent and likely to return to court, they should be able to get out of custody through the government. Through some sort of pretrial service arrangement, check-in program. Staying in contact with a public defender. That should be fine for a segment. There are other segments of the population where, man, if not for the bail bond, would they really come back to court? When you have to ask yourself that question, "Are they going to really come back to court, if not for a bail bond?" Well, then that's when it's appropriate.
So there's several different use cases, and for some people, bail bonds should never be allowed. And for the bail bond industry, we just say, "Hey, some people posting bail is good because you could turn yourself, bail out within an hour. You don't need no judge to tell you that you're allowed to leave. And you don't have to be put on an ankle bracelet monitor and obey a curfew. You could just post bail and you could be out." So there's so many different varieties that it could go.
Allison Schrager: I mean, how do you feel the businesses changed from when your father did it? Your father was, I guess, active in the '80s and '90s? I mean, how has the business changed?
Nicholas Lindblad: Wow, it's changed so much. So even when I was younger, I was still in the office. The risks and the qualifications were higher at a certain point. And if, say for example, you didn't have family members or you weren't able to get a lien on a house, or if somebody just wanted to do a payment plan, that wasn't something that was a business practice until more of the modern era. My dad, at a certain point, people didn't do payment plans. The concept of pay-as-you-go that most people live by now, that wasn't really a thing. So today, payment plans are a thing. That's a huge change.
Allison Schrager: Oh, so you take your fee over time?
Nicholas Lindblad: Yeah. And I'm fine doing it that way because when you could work with certain people that you could count on, you're happy because they could get the person out. And it helps everybody to have somebody out so that they could fight their case and they're not stuck in custody. Sometimes the person needs to get back to work and then over time they could pay you. And I don't mind.
Allison Schrager: But your father didn't take a payment plan?
Nicholas Lindblad: But payment plans back in the 1980s and '90s was not a thing. A payment plan consisted of, "Okay, well, I'll do it and we'll get them out today, and then, hey, by tomorrow, just come back with the rest of the money." It wasn't split up where on a monthly payment plan you could pay a few hundred bucks.
Allison Schrager: Do you feel like he was freer though? Wrote more bonds? Because there's this activist movement away from bail.
Nicholas Lindblad: This will be good for people who are interested in getting into bail bonds. So there's two things; so when my dad got into bail bonds, it was a rather robust industry. You could get in and one, you could do bonds on the federal level, which is a whole different market, and on the state level. Now, today, the feds have their own pretrial release system. So there's not a situation where you could just slide in with a bail bond. So the feds handle their own system. So that's a market that's no longer open. Two, you want to know what's crazy and what the real enemy is that we should be united in fighting, but people rather just sometimes point to the bondsman as a knee-jerk reaction? We should be fighting the idea of cash-only bail. And my one fugitive right now, his bail bond is set to $20,000 cash only.
I bailed him out for seven, and then the bench warrant was for $20,000 cash only. Cash only bail is essentially setting no bail because the likelihood of somebody being able to get $20,000 cash together, it's so excessive that in a sense you're really saying, "No bail." And I think everybody could get on board with just saying, "Hey, wait a minute." I'm not an attorney. I couldn't even play one on television, I'll tell you that. But I've talked to really high-level attorneys on several different occasions where the concept of cash only bail to some really smart people is unconstitutional. So I'll just leave your viewers with that. I can't speak on the details of that. But cash-only bail basically says you can't put a bail bond in play. You can't put somebody on supervised release. You literally have to have a pile of cash submitted, and that's the only way to get out. So that's a change.
One more thing to dovetail off that is the bail amounts are way too large. They're just way too large. I bailed out a guy who I literally got off the phone with just the other day because I talked to him. One, I like to do it because, in a roundabout way, I am here to serve. Two, it's good for business because I like to know what's going on with my clients. Bailed out a guy on a huge case. Maybe one of the biggest in Hawaii history, at least in the top 20. And I'm talking to the guy and somebody else had similar charges and the bail was set to $2 million. And I was talking to him, I was like, "Oh, you know why they set it to $2 million? Because when you bailed out at X amount, nobody ever expected you be to be able to bail out."
So in order to set the bail at an amount where the prosecutor's office knew the person couldn't bail out, they just asked for $2 million because it's so high, there's nobody who could qualify for a $2 million bail. Think about that. Yeah, I mean, I don't want to get too personal but you, Ms. Allison Schrager, imagine the type of financial background you would have to have if somebody accused you of something and it became politicized and the powers that be wanted to keep you in jail, and then they just thought, "Oh, we're going to set bail $2 million."
Allison Schrager: Could you tell me what the crime was for that-
Nicholas Lindblad: Okay. It was a murder charge.
Allison Schrager: Well, you know . . .
Nicholas Lindblad: That's a big deal.
Allison Schrager: Yeah, I mean, fair I think.
Nicholas Lindblad: That is fair. But I will push back on this. My client had no criminal history, and I don't want to reveal too much about this, but there are certain situations, let's just be general. There are certain self-defense situations where you could get charged with murder. There are certain tragedies that could happen where a fight can go wrong. And after defending yourself, somebody might hit their head on a curb and then be in a coma, and then—
Allison Schrager: Yeah, I mean, he's going to have his day in court—
Nicholas Lindblad: Yeah.
Allison Schrager: —to prove that.
Nicholas Lindblad: So the key thing is you never want to have a situation where somebody who has a propensity for murder is out on bail. But that's what I'm bringing up. And the key thing is, if my client, who you could tell I'm vested in. I want them to win. If my client actually is proven guilty, I have to guarantee that he goes to court and then justice will be served upon the court's decision. It's not for the media to demonize him or her, it's not for us to judge. It's for the court to then get a resolution. And then because I'm on the line for an insane amount of money, I have to guarantee that he goes to sentencing. And then the justice system determines the penalty, not public opinion. Does that make sense?
Allison Schrager: Yeah, I could just see why, if you're a suspect for murder, you would have large bail.
Nicholas Lindblad: Yep.
Allison Schrager: No, I mean, I totally think he deserves a free trial and they should get to the bottom of this. But it's not like a drunk and disorderly, like the guy who got off the submarine. I could see why he would have low bail. But this guy, he might've killed someone.
Nicholas Lindblad: He should have high bail. I agree. But when you get to the point where it's impossible to post the bail, you've essentially said, "No bail." And my point is the court, you need to step up, because it gives the people who do bail a bad name, because everybody assumes it's the bondsman's fault. "The bondsman won't bail him out." It's not our fault. We can't qualify somebody for $2 million. It's the court that should have just stepped up and said, "Hey, you know what? We're going to set this to no bail because that's what we really want. We just don't want this person out." But they use the money as the tool to get what they want. And then the bail agents and the bail industry have to take the fall.
We don't set the bail at $2 million. We can't influence or affect that. But when people look at the haves and the have-nots, and then they look at the cash involved, and then they see these impossibly high bail amounts, we take the flack for that as the bail bond industry. Where in my head, if the court just stepped up and said, "No, we're remanding this person into custody, we're going to set their bail to no bail," then we wouldn't have this conflating of issues and then we wouldn't take as much heat as bail agents.
Allison Schrager: Yeah, that's fair. I mean, maybe if you’re a murderer, you just shouldn't get bail. I guess that no one's going to bail themselves out at $2 million other than if you're Robert Durst. And he wasn't exactly a good case either.
Nicholas Lindblad: For me, what hit home was Aaron Hernandez, because I went to University of Florida. He was the football player who, that we know of, he killed Lloyd Odin, but then he also had two other murders that were in different states while he was in custody in Boston for the one. That's a situation where I'm like, "What are we talking about here? He needs to be in custody. There's three different murders he's associated with." So that's the perfect example for no bail. However, let's just say you're caught in a love triangle of some sort. Let's just say you're in a fight that went wrong. Let's just say somebody breaks into your house and you use lethal force on somebody trying to harm your family. There's so many different reasons why you shouldn't just be in custody on a $2 million bail for murder charge.
Allison Schrager: Would you be arraigned for murder, then, if those were the cases? If it was, say, self-defense or it was a crime of passion? I mean, isn't murder premeditated?
Nicholas Lindblad: Okay, first-degree murder, premeditated, the most serious that you have. That is a situation that we could talk about no bail. I think that's the perfect way to parse it out, because you don't want somebody who's got something wrong with them who literally plans out this elaborate scheme and then kills somebody. Because that's a public safety danger that we could all agree upon, we should not have people in custody like that. And it's also the perfect example of how organizations like the ACLU, who don't believe in pretrial detention, where you have to just say, "Are you crazy?" That guy or woman who committed X, Y, and Z crime, that could be Aaron Hernandez. If he had got caught on murder number one, person number two and person number three might still be alive. But they weren't in custody.
So that's the perfect example for, I think, when the courts do need to step up and it's okay if somebody's likely to leave the jurisdiction, if they're likely to intimidate a witness, if they're not likely to come back to court, if there's going to be further public safety harm. Yeah, absolutely. I think that's the perfect example for when you put somebody away and you step up, you say, "No bail."
Allison Schrager: This has been really fun. Thank you. This has been really interesting and a nice break from talking about heavy finance all day. What is the name of your, is it YouTube channel? So people could check it out.
Nicholas Lindblad: Yeah. So a few different ways to find us. My company is A-1 Bail Bonds. And if you were to put that into Google, we have a little tagline: "Got bail?" And you'll see all my videos where we talk about cases, just like how we talked about with murder and different things where people, maybe they should have lower bail, maybe they should be in custody. We talk about all that stuff. That's the main thing. The YouTube channel has all my podcasts.
Allison Schrager: Okay, great. I encourage everyone to check it out, and learn more. And you can find City Journal on Twitter @CityJournal or on Instagram @cityjournal_mi. And as always, if you like what you heard, please give us a five-star rating on iTunes. Nick, thank you so much for joining. It's been so fun to talk to you.
Nicholas Lindblad: Thank you. I had fun.