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Camden’s Donna Davis has found niche as bail bondsman

Posted: January 25, 2013 6:07 p.m.
Updated: January 28, 2013 5:00 a.m.
Denise Schnese/C-I

Donna Davis is one of 29 female professional bail bond agents in South Carolina.

Camden’s Donna Davis is the exception to the rule.

Out of 102 professional bail bond agents in South Carolina, 29 are female, including Davis, who has issued bail bonds for 18 years. There are also 428 surety bondsmen in the state, with 156 being women. Professional bondsmen are licensed but pledge their own assets or collateral for the balance of the bond, while surety bondsmen are insured.

In what typically in past years was a male dominated profession, Davis has found her niche in the bail bond business as a surety bondsman -- and for the most part business is good.

Regardless of whether one is male or female, the title used is “bondsman” and the process is the same.

“When the defendant gets arrested there is a charge put on him. Depending upon the type of charge it is, the magistrate can set it at the jail or (the defendant) has to wait and go before a circuit court judge,” Davis said.

Davis explained that once the bond is set there are three ways the defendant (or defendant’s family) can go about posting bond:

• equity can be taken in property and posted, making the defendant obligated for the face value of the bond; or

• they can put up half of the bond and use a bonding company for the remaining half -- in such cases the defendant can come off that bond any time they want and the bonding company can pick up their half if need be (if they wanted to sell the property); or

• in circuit court, many times judges will allow them to post a percentage -- the judge sets the percentage which cannot exceed 15 percent of the total bond.

“When that family posts that money in full to the circuit court, their lawyer will get their money back,” Davis said. “If they choose to use a bond company we will either write the bond at the jail or we go to the clerk of court and sign a bond. (In such cases) they pay us a fee. The minimum is $25, the max is 15 percent. The majority of the bonding companies finance the bonds and you try and get a down payment. You do the best you can, depending on the defendant. That is the way I do it anyway. You don’t just get anybody out. I don’t,” said Davis.

Davis said that before she decides to post bond for a defendant she looks at the individual and the history behind that individual. This is where female intuition or “empathetic accuracy” comes in handy. She admits that to be successful in the business you need to know how to “read people.”

“You don’t want to be stuck. And if they are violent you have to think about the what if … if you have to go and pick them up. You don’t want anybody hurt … you really have to think about it. And we are obligated for the face value of the bond. You sign for $100,000 you are obligated for $100,000,” Davis said.

She said that in the past, bondsmen would follow their customers for many years. Defendants could be on bond for extended periods of time.

“We were obligated for that individual until that case was disposed of. It could be up to eight years. And this was largely due to backlog,” Davis said.

In 2012, legislation passed ending a bondsman’s responsibilities for the whereabouts of a defendant after three years. Section 12-28-1175 of the S.C. Code of Laws states that a “licensee who has filed a bond or other security under this chapter is entitled, on request to have the department return, refund, or release the bond or security if, in the judgment of the department, the licensee continuously has complied with this chapter for the previous three consecutive years.”

Three years is still a substantial commitment, and the decision to post bond certainly profits from good intuition, Davis said.

When a defendant fails to appear, generally a bench warrant is issued and it becomes the bond company’s obligation to go knock on the door and try and locate them. And there’s no guarantee that the company will be relieved of responsibility of the bond.

“I’d say 99.9 percent of the time, the circuit court will let you off that bond but what you have to do is take them to the jail. You file your paperwork and then they will give you a court date when to appear in the courtroom and the jail brings them over -- they will have their lawyer, we go over,” Davis said. “Everyone goes before a judge; it is like a meeting. And we tell the judge why we want off the bond, what he has done. And the judge can do two things: he can totally revoke the bond or, the majority of the time, they relieve the bonding company of the bond enabling the defendant to get out the same day with another bonding company.”

A study presented to the Radiological Society of North America in 2009 showed that men and woman respond to danger differently. While men are more likely to take action -- “fight or flight” -- when faced with dangerous situations, women are more apt to try and control -- “tend and befriend” -- the circumstances surrounding possible danger. This is, apparently, true for Davis.

Davis looks at the history, the victim involved, and the crime itself.

“If you treat everybody right and use good common sense there are no problems,” she said.

When it comes to locating a defendant, Davis always accompanies her bounty hunters.

“I go with all of my men; they never go by themselves,” Davis said. “It keeps the situation very calm. Generally if a man goes to the door they don’t even open it. But if I go to the door, it keeps everything docile.

However, she stressed that a woman can’t expect to do this kind of work without the help of men. She credits her bounty hunters with providing the necessary force which is sometimes required for the capture and return of a fugitive.

“I wouldn’t be able to do my job without my guys,” said Davis.

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