A recognizance bond is one of several types of bail bond. Bail bonds are a financial guarantee that a criminal defendant will show up in court at the scheduled time. If the defendant doesn't appear, whoever posted the bond is obligated to pay it. In some cases, you can file bankruptcy and wipe out your obligation to pay the bond.
Bail bonds include surety, 10 percent, recognizance and cash bonds. A recognizance bond means the defendant is released on nothing but her promise to show up. Cash bonds require the defendant to post a set amount to leave jail; 10 percent bonds require she only post 10 percent of the amount with the court. With a surety bond, someone else, such as a bail bondsman, posts bail. As a recognizance bond doesn't require anyone to pay money, there's no debt for bankruptcy to discharge, or wipe out.
The federal bankruptcy code states that individuals cannot discharge fines, penalties or forfeitures owed to the government. Cities have raised this point when individuals try to discharge a bail bond in bankruptcy. Judges have ruled that if someone else puts up money for a defendant's bond, the debt isn't a fine or penalty, as the individual isn't accused of a crime, so it can be discharged. You can also discharge a commitment to reimburse a bail bondsman who puts up a surety bond.
If you've given a bail bondsman any sort of collateral, such as a lien on your house or your car, the situation is different. You can't usually discharge liens in bankruptcy, so even if you discharge the debt, the bondsman can use the lien to take your property. In Chapter 7 bankruptcy -- in which the court can sell off your property to pay your creditors -- you can sometimes void a lien. Bankruptcy laws exempt some property from sale; if the lien prevents you from claiming an exemption, the bankruptcy judge can void it.
You can file bankruptcy even if the bond debt doesn't leave you destitute. To file Chapter 7, your average income for the previous six months must be lower than the state median. To qualify for Chapter 13 -- in which you spend three or five years paying off your creditors out of your disposable income -- you must have less than $1.08 million in debts secured by collateral, as of 2011. You're unsecured debts must be below $360,475.