Legal Technology

Startup seeks to bring bail bond process online

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When Sandra Bland died in a Texas jail cell in 2015, Galen Weber got to thinking about bail.

Bland was being held on $5,000 bail. Her family and friends might have been able to raise it, but she was hundreds of miles away from her home in Illinois. Three days after being taken into custody, Bland died in an apparent suicide.

Weber is from New York, where bond agents require in-person payment, according to Robert Ambrogi’s LawSites. That’s inefficient, says Weber, a former data analyst for the Federal Reserve.

“[Bland’s] story prompted me to study the process of making bail—not so much the legal framework, but the nuts and bolts of how I concretely post bail,” Weber said. “What I found is that the process is pretty antiquated. There is a lot of consumer fraud, a lot of inefficiency. I was struck by how similar it is to other outdated systems where a tech company comes in and is able to make it better.”

So he started a tech company intended to make it better. Betterbail brings the process of applying for, approving and paying for a bail bond in New York City online. A licensed bond agent associated with Betterbail handles the actual bond and delivers it to the court with authority over the person being held. After that person is out, Betterbail allows weekly check-ins via mobile phone, with photos tagged with the person’s physical location. These replace the in-person checkins used by other New York bail agencies.

Weber plans to develop similar partnerships with bond agents in other jurisdictions. He also plans to add automatic text and email updates for defendants and the people guaranteeing their bail.

Ambrogi notes that there are plenty of other bail-bond application sites, but Weber says those are brick-and-mortar businesses with an online presence, whereas his is an internet startup.

Bland’s death offered a different lesson for others; Ambrogi notes that Mother Jones used it as an argument for drastically reforming bail. Bland’s family settled a lawsuit over the death recently for $1.9 million and policy changes to improve booking, screening and cell check procedures. The trooper who pulled Bland over for failing to signal a lane change, Brian Encinia, was indicted for perjury in January after a grand jury determined that he was not truthful when he said he removed Bland from the car for safety reasons.

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