If you are a suspect in a crime, you are considered innocent until – and unless – the state can prove otherwise. As such, you may be able to post bail and enjoy something close to freedom until the legal proceedings continue.
Making bail is generally preferred to sitting in jail until your court date, but there are legal responsibilities involved. If you fail to show up when required, you can face serious legal consequences. It’s always best to understand the ins and outs of what it means to be out on bail when these circumstances arise.
If you’re facing a criminal charge of any kind, bringing your strongest defense is key. An experienced Killeen criminal defense attorney can help you in this effort.
Bail Jumping and Failure to Appear
Paying bail secures your freedom until you are required to show up for your court date. Bail jumping is the crime of failing to appear for your court date. The offense is classified as an offense against public administration, specifically because bail jumpers are obstructing governmental operations.
Bail creates a formal agreement between you, as the defendant, and the court. As such, failure to appear for a scheduled court date is a violation of a court order and can be charged as bail jumping. In other words, you don’t necessarily have to flee the jurisdiction in an effort to avoid prosecution to be charged with bail jumping.
Bail jumping charges can apply whether you were released on your own recognizance or you paid cash bail. Bail jumping forfeits any bail you paid and leads to a separate charge – even if you aren’t ever tried for or convicted of the original charge.
The Elements of Bail Jumping
In order for the charge of bail jumping to apply, the following elements must be present:
The accused was lawfully released from custody – whether required to pay bail or not – on the condition that he or she would appear before the court at a specific date and time.
The accused intentionally or knowingly failed to appear as required.
The key matters here are “knowingly and intentionally.” If the accused has a reasonable excuse for not showing up, or if missing the court date was a complete accident, the charge of bail jumping doesn’t apply.
However, it is up to the judge to decide whether the excuse for failing to appear qualifies as reasonable. As such, there is no exact definition of a reasonable excuse – and there’s no way of knowing ahead of time if your reason for missing your court date will excuse you.
If you missed your date for any of the following reasons, it may stand as a valid legal defense:
Contact a skilled Killeen criminal defense attorney to learn more about reasonable excuses in your specific situation.
The Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations for bail jumping in Texas is three years. The case of State v. Ojiaku helped clear up exactly what this means in relation to skipping bail. Consider all the following:
The defendant, Ojiaku, was indicted for indecency with a child in 2003.
He was released on bail and was required to appear in court on September 26th of that year.
He failed to appear, and it wasn’t until 2012 that he was apprehended.
In early 2013, he was indicted for bail jumping.
While the indecency offense was dismissed, the offense of bail jumping was defined as occurring over the course of the nine years from when he skipped bail to when he was apprehended and was not dismissed.
Ojiaku contended that the application of the three-year statute of limitations – or time limit for pressing charges – ran its course three years after the date that he skipped bail. On the other hand, the prosecution argued that the statute of limitations hadn’t run out because failing to appear is a continuous offense.
The appeals court found that statutes of limitation should be liberally interpreted in favor of those to whom they apply. This interpretation is intended to limit “exposure to criminal prosecution to a certain fixed period of time.” As such, defendants won’t have to defend themselves against charges for which the facts may have dimmed with time.
In addition, statutes of limitations encourage law enforcement to investigate suspected criminal activity promptly.
Not a Continuous Offense
The Texas bail jumping statute does not expressly define the crime as continuous in nature, which led to several possible interpretations of the law.
The prosecution's interpretation was that every day Ojiaku failed to present himself in court extended the date of the crime’s commission. However, the appeals court in this case ultimately ruled that the offense of bail jumping is complete when the defendant misses his original court date – thus starting the clock on the statute of limitations.
Fines and Penalties
The crime of bail jumping is generally charged as a Class A misdemeanor, which comes with fines of up to $4,000 and a jail sentence of up to a year. However, if the underlying crime was a felony, the crime of bail jumping becomes a third-degree felony, which comes with fines of up to $10,000 and a prison sentence of two to ten years.
The consequences of jumping bail can be severe, so it is always best to face such charges with the help of a seasoned Killeen criminal defense attorney.
Forfeiture of Cash Bail
If you paid cash bail or used a bond, jumping your bail leads to forfeiture of everything you paid. This money won’t be returned to you at the end of the case. If you took out a bond, the bond company can require repayment, and if you provided any collateral to guarantee the bond, it can be seized.
Facing a Court Date
There are only three instances that can land you in court defending yourself against a criminal charge:
You were taken into custody at the scene of the crime or immediately afterward because the arresting officer had probable cause for an arrest.
You were arrested in response to a court-issued warrant backed up by a sworn complaint.
You were arrested after an investigation that led to indictment by a grand jury.
From here, you’ll be put in custody before bail is addressed.
Bail is typically set as a matter of predetermined regulations that correlate with specific crimes. After bail is set, the defendant may either post the bail amount – if he or she can afford it – or stay in custody until the court date. No matter what the defendant chooses, a skilled Killeen criminal defense attorney can help each step of the way.
If you can’t afford to pay the cash bail, you can seek a bail bond through a bail bond agent. The agent will arrange a transaction with a bond company, which involves an official agreement. Generally, you’ll need to pay ten percent of your bail, which you won’t get back, to obtain a bond. From here, the bond company will ensure your appearance in court, and they can take action if you fail to appear.
The Bail Amount
While bond amounts are set by regulation, the judge also has considerable discretion in the matter, and the following factors are generally taken into consideration:
The severity of the charge
Whether the defendant poses a risk to society
Whether the defendant has prior convictions
Whether the defendant was on bail or probation when the current charge was levied
Whether the defendant is considered a flight risk
When a defendant shows up for a court date, the bail amount is returned to him or her. However, those who bail jump forfeit their bail.
The process differs if a bail bond is involved. If the defendant obtained a bail bond, he or she pays 10 percent upfront as the bail bond company’s payment for services. When the defendant shows up for the court date, the court will reimburse the company for the entire amount they paid on your behalf.
However, if a defendant fails to appear before the court as required, the bond company loses the money it paid, and the defendant is responsible for reimbursement.
Asking for a Reduction
Once your bail has been set, you have the legal right to request a reduction, which involves a bail hearing. Having a dedicated Killeen criminal defense attorney in your corner can significantly affect the hearing’s outcome. You and your lawyer can ask for a reduction by demonstrating that you’re not a flight risk.
The following factors are often signs that a defendant is not a flight risk and is eligible for reduced bail:
The defendant is a resident of Texas
The defendant doesn’t have a passport
The defendant’s family lives in Texas
The defendant has a job in Texas that supports his or her family
The defendant has other close ties to the state
The defendant rarely leaves Texas
Those whose ties to the State of Texas are less robust can expect to pay higher bail.
What It Means to Be Out on Bail
When you’re out on bail, it’s not the same as being unconditionally free. You’ll be required to meet specific requirements in order to stay out of jail. These requirements include staying on the right side of the law. Further, failure to appear on your court date will lead to an arrest warrant.
Additional Reasons Why Jumping Bail Is a Bad Idea
The negative consequences associated with jumping bail don’t end with forfeiting the money you paid and having an additional criminal charge tacked on. The following consequences can also apply:
Your bond will be revoked, and the judge can issue a warrant for your arrest.
Your driver’s license could be suspended.
You could face a contempt of court charge.
Your bond amount will likely increase.
If you’re charged with a crime at a later date, you may be ineligible for bail.
If you think there is a chance you may miss your court date, reach out to a Killeen criminal defense attorney right away. He or she will help you discuss your options and make plans to best protect your rights in the criminal justice system.
The answers to some of the questions people facing bail ask most frequently may give you a better understanding of your own situation.
When Is an Excuse for Not Showing Up to Court Considered Reasonable?
The judge in your case has considerable discretion in deciding how reasonable your excuse is, but some excuses are almost always considered reasonable. For example, if the court failed to send your summons to the correct address, the excuse of lack of notification may hold.
Further, if you experience a true emergency that prevents you from showing up, it will likely be considered a reasonable excuse. Examples of true emergencies include the following situations:
Having a seriously ill child
Becoming seriously ill yourself
Experiencing a death in your immediate family
However, even in a true emergency, you’re expected to notify your attorney – who will, in turn, notify the court by appearing on your behalf and explaining the situation. Sending an agent, such as a family member, to explain your absence may also work. Simply failing to show up or to notify the court is a crime.
Do I Need a Criminal Defense Attorney?
If you have been charged with a crime, working closely with a seasoned Killeen criminal defense attorney is always to your advantage. If you missed your court date and have been charged with bail jumping, your trusted attorney will help mitigate the damage and help you navigate a path toward a favorable resolution.
Could I Be Released without Having to Pay Bail?
In some situations, defendants are released on personal recognizance, which means he or she is released on their word that they will appear in court at the required time. Being released on one’s personal recognizance is up to the judge’s discretion.
Defendants who are not considered a threat to the community, who don’t have a criminal record, and who were charged with a nonviolent crime are more likely to be released on their own recognizance.
Reach Out to an Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Attorney Today
Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard – a formidable Texas criminal defense group – is an accomplished Killeen criminal defense attorney with an impressive record of obtaining favorable case resolutions for his valued clients. The outcome of your case is important to your future, so please don’t wait to contact us online or call us at (254) 781-4222 for more information about what we can do to help you today.