What is a surety?
A surety is a way of encouraging an accused to follow his or her bail conditions. A surety can be cash money that is deposited into court (on the accused’s behalf) or more often it is a person who comes forward and pledges a sum of money (not paid initially) and who supervises an accused person on bail.
Why do we need sureties?
Sureties are required for certain types of accused who are subject to certain types of charges. Typically for individuals charged with crimes of violence or who have been subject to previous forms of release and are charged again, a surety is a way that the court can acquire some comfort that the accused will be motivated to comply with their conditions.
When a person is in custody, the court will know where they are and what they are doing. In jail, the accused is constantly supervised.
When a person is released on bail, the court will lose direct supervision of that person. A surety is a system to garner a measure of oversight into the accused’s behaviour while out of custody.
When are sureties required?
There is no formula, but sureties are only required if the accused is brought to court for bail. The more serious the charge, the more likely a surety will be required.
What is a surety’s duration of commitment/involvement?
A surety’s obligation begins when the accused is released from jail and continues until 1) the surety asks to be removed of the obligation (go to court for this); 2) the accused is taken into custody; 3) the criminal charges are completely finished (either the accused has been acquitted or has been sentenced). Often this can take a year or more to complete.
Who makes an appropriate surety?
There is no rule governing who may be a surety, however in practice it is often a relative or family friend who is prepared to embark on this serious obligation. Typically sureties will not have a criminal record. They will be able to have the accused live with them (though in some cases this is not required). A surety is often a person of some substance, who is willing to place loyalty to the court and their pledge ahead of their loyalty to the accused.
How does money enter the equation?
Sometimes, cash is deposited into court to act as the surety. An accused person, knowing that money has been paid into court, is believed to think twice about deviating from their bail conditions knowing that their money is at risk of being forfeited.
More often, however, the money is simply “pledged”, meaning, a human surety agrees to risk a sum of money that is effectively hanging over their heads. If the accused violates their bail, the government can come after the surety for the amount of money pledged.
What is the surety’s obligation?
A surety promises to supervise an accused person while on bail. This means:
- Ensuring the accused attends their court dates;
- Ensuring the accused follows their bail conditions to the letter;
- Ensuring the accused does not commit new criminal offences;
- Promises to call the police if any of the above is not strictly complied with.
How do I become a surety?
There are two ways a surety can be approved for this role:
- the proposed surety comes to court and meets with the Crown attorney who interviews them for suitability; or
- the proposed surety testifies at the accused’s bail hearing and is approved by the Justice of the Peace.
Crown Interview of Surety
Typically this method is used only if there is a possibility that the Crown will consent the accused’s release. There are many charges and types of accused (for instance, a person with a lengthy criminal record) for which no consent will likely be given. In this latter instance, the likely process would be to go straight to the bail hearing.
But for many accused, a Crown interview will be sufficient to allow the surety and the Crown to acquire the necessary trust that the surety will discharge their obligations of supervision.
A bail hearing is a formal hearing in court to decide if the accused person will be released from jail pending the disposition of their charges.
A surety will sit in the court room and hear the charges and alleged facts behind the charges read out. Having heard the allegations, a surety will be called to testify as a witness in the hearing.
The surety is asked questions by the accused’s lawyer and after by the Crown. Once all the questions have been answered, the surety is asked to return to the body of the court to observe the remainder of the hearing.