When you are charged with a crime, bail is a promise that you will return to court. You are asked for a certain amount of money in order to gain your pre-trial release. The thought is that you will return if there is a lot of money on the line. But, as the Star-Telegram shows in this report, the money or threat of further prosecution isn’t always enough to guarantee a return.
When someone fails to show up after being released on bond, they are said to “forfeit” their bond, requiring that the county collect on any money that is outstanding. This outstanding money is largely present when defendants use a bail bondsman, who only requires them to put up a fraction of their total bond amount (typically 10%). The bondsman promises the court to have the subject back on the upcoming court date, or face the collection of the remaining funds.
In the past three years, the Star-Telegram found, hundreds of forfeitures, where the court seeks to collect the outstanding funds, have been “delayed, dismissed, or settled for a fraction of the (total) amount.”
District Attorney Joe Shannon says it’s nothing to worry about, that the amount is really miniscule when compared with all of the bonds written every year. “When you consider how many bonds are being made, the vast, vast majority of them comply, the vast majority of them deal with the judicial system as it comes along,” he said.
Many of us have an idea of a bail bondsman hiring a bounty hunter to chase down missing defendants, perhaps due in part to reality television. In reality, however, many of them “play the waiting game,” believing their missing defendants will eventually get picked up by police.
They will typically postpone on the payments, waiting for the defendant to show back up. But many stay on the lam for weeks, months, and even years. If they stay gone for more than 270 days, the state is typically done with allowing for “grace periods” and extensions. But even then, they rarely collect the full amount.
Over the last three years, the county has collected less than 1/5 of the total amount of forfeited bonds—that’s less than $1 million on a total of over $5 million.
Bail can be a confusing matter. A variety of things are taken into consideration when a judge determines if someone should be eligible to be released on bail, from the charge they are facing to their criminal history.
If you are charged with a crime and have questions or if you have a bench warrant out for your arrest for bail jumping, contact our attorneys for help.