How Does Bail Work In Texas?

Bail is an interesting concept. In most cases, if you’re somebody who’s never been accused or found guilty of a crime before, you’re entitled to bond. Now, let’s say capital murder was the issue. In that case, the state can make a move to deny you bail because our Texas constitution states that, under limited circumstances, you can be denied bail. For the other 99.9% of cases, though, you’re entitled to bail. What the authority does then – be it the judge, the magistrate, the neutral magistrate, the city judge, some other official in the chain like a justice of the peace, or something like that – is set a bond amount. That bond amount then needs to be made, and it can be made a number of different ways. It can be made through pretrial services, which charges you a small percentage (sometimes as low as 3%) of the bond amount. It might also be a commercial bond based on the risk.

Now, the risk means a bondsman looks at it and says, “Okay. I trust this guy to come to court.” He looks at the guy’s criminal history and the nature of the charge, and then he says, “Okay. I’m going to set a risk at 10 to 15% of value of the bond.” So then you pay him a fee up to that 10 to 15%, and it doesn’t have to be paid all at one time normally, and then he gets some collateral for the full amount. So if you don’t show up, he is allowed to move against the collateral. But you never get that 10 to 15% that you pay to the professional bondsman back. That’s money based on the risk and the fee for the services provided.

In Texas, you are supposed to have that bond amount set within 24 hours of your arrest. Now, some law enforcement agencies will hold you incognito for up to 72 hours while they investigate the case. Once they charge you, though, you’re to be seen by a magistrate within 24 hours to have bond set, and then off you go. Now, when the magistrate is looking to set bond, he is looking at the nature of the charge, the safety of the community, and the likelihood of that person showing back up balanced against that person’s need to get out. He’s trying to say, “Here is how much bond I think is reasonable to ensure that this individual will return to court.” So he looks at them to see if they are a good person, if they have lived in the community for a while, if they have friends, family, and neighbors they are associated with, if they have been employed most of the time, and other things that keep them tied to the community no matter what the charge is. If it’s somebody who’s just passing through, they’re probably not going to have a good bond.

If you’ve been in trouble many times before, you’re also probably not going to have a good bond. We found that in 17.15 and 17.15(1) of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. Now, let’s imagine that you’ve been convicted and the sentence has been suspended. We call that probation. Well, if that’s happened, then you’ve been convicted of a crime. If you’re then arrested on a revocation of that probation, you’re not entitled to bond. The judges generally give it to you because they don’t want you to sit in jail waiting for your case to proceed, which, if it’s a felony, can sometimes take up to a couple of years based on the complexity of the case.

Can How Busy The Court’s Schedule Is Affect That As Well?

Yes, absolutely. A lot of cases, though, just naturally take a long time. For instance, if it’s a child abuse case, the first thing that happens is, if that child was accused of being abused by someone in the family — be it a father, a mother, or a step-parent —then that child is generally moved from one home to another for their own safety. Sometimes that home is out of state, and sometimes that child has to work to get acclimated to the new living environment, and to bring them back for this is sometimes traumatic. If they are in school and taking tests, then the schedule also becomes difficult. Tickets also have to be bought so far in advance because the State of Texas is complaining that they don’t have the resources for it. Then the defense lawyer will have to get an expert to refute some of the accusations made by the state’s expert. Sometimes it really is the complexity level of the case that can delay it while the evidence is being accumulated. Now, obviously a child who is involved in the case can come in and say this is what happened here. The defendant could then come back and say, “Well, that’s not true.” The prosecutor would want to bring in all the evidence they have, like medical records. Somebody has to explain all that, and it takes some time.

Now, in other cases involving violence, there might be text messages going back and forth or Facebook postings, and warrants have to be issued to out-of-state offices for Facebook, Myspace, or Twitter, which will then look at them. If they are a nation- or a worldwide organization, they will take that subpoena in the order they get it in, and they will give it their consideration, time, and effort, but we’re not the only show in town. They could have literally hundreds ahead of this one. The same goes for phone records and financial records. Sometimes that’s a difficulty.

I’ve seen cases where the evidence suddenly changed at the last second, and then we need a reset. So sometimes those delays are really caused not just by the court’s availability but by the ability of the defendant or the State to get all the evidence they need to the courtroom.

When You Talk About Bond, Are There Bond Conditions Someone Has To Make Sure They Meet Until They Have To Come To Court?

There are a whole bunch of different conditions now. When you deal with domestic violence, sexual assault cases, or DWIs, the minimum conditions that you have to abide by are right in our code of criminal procedure. For instance, you might not be allowed to go near school grounds or places where children congregate. Even though you’re presumed innocent, it’s just a precautionary measure. It’s about the protection of the community.

Basically, what the judge wants to know is that you’re not going to have contact with individuals who could be harmed. You’re not going to be around your ex-spouse or this person you’re alleged to have assaulted. Or if you came in and had all these controlled substances on you, then we want to take a urinalysis. We want to do these things to make sure that you’re not getting in more trouble. We now have ankle monitors called SCRAM devices that analyze your sweat to determine if there is alcohol in it. If so, then you’re going to have to come back to court and explain to the judge why you’re drinking alcohol.

We have breathalyzers that are set up in homes so you’d have to periodically take a breath test in your home. Now, the defendants and the people on bond who are presumed innocent all pay for all this. Sometimes there are independent vendors who sell or lease these devices to the defendants, and they collect the money and issue report summaries to local probation officers who sometimes run the bond situation and/or local bond offices. The conditions are just designed to make sure somebody doesn’t get in the same trouble again, and that they go out and get a job.

Sometimes if you have to have a bond hearing, it can take up to 10 to 14 days while you’re in jail for it to get on the calendar and come to court. The arraignment process is only after you’ve waived indictment or have been indicted, and that could be 3 or 4 months down the road. Then you go for the arraignment, which is just to determine what you’re charged with and if your name is spelled correctly, and just to make sure that we’re talking about the same person and determine the identity. But your bond conditions are well ahead of anything else.

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