One of the first things a person charged with a crime must deal with is bail. Bail is supposed to give the court assurances that the accused will appear in court to answer the charges against him. A bail bond is an agreement between the accused and a surety, otherwise known as a bail bondsman. When a bail bondsman agrees to a bail bond, he is taking a gamble on the accused (the “principal”). If the accused doesn’t appear in court, then the bail bondsman can be held liable for the total amount of the bail. In exchange for assuming this risk, the bail bondsman requires a fee from the accused/principal, which is typically 10% of the bail amount.
So, what are the rules for deciding how much bail will be in a particular case? Long story short: courts have wide discretion when setting the amount of bail. Courts consider various factors, such as the nature and seriousness of the charge; the future safety of the victim and community; the accused’s ability to make bail; and whether the accused is a flight risk. When the accused cannot afford bail, then his attorney can file a motion with the court asking for a bail reduction. In some cases, the court will set the motion for a hearing. During this hearing, the accused can present testimony regarding his finances, ties to the community, and other relevant facts that establish that he is not a danger to anyone and will appear in court. On the other hand, the state will have the opportunity to refute the accused’s position. Prosecutors do so normally by presenting evidence related to the pending case, the accused’s criminal history, and ability to post the current bail.
Not all bonds require money, though. A personal bond is a bond that does not require financial security or a surety. A personal bond does require a promise from the accused to appear in court on a certain date and time. As a general rule, a magistrate may release someone from jail on a personal bond. However, there are exceptions to this rule. For instance, if someone is charged with capital murder, certain sexual offenses, or other violent crimes then only the judge presiding over the case may release the accused on a personal bond. If someone is released on a personal bond, then he may be subject to testing for controlled substances and alcohol and may be required to participate in drug/alcohol rehabilitation and education. The good news is that if you take a test as a condition of a personal bond, then the state cannot use positive results against you in any criminal proceeding arising out of the offense for which you’re charged.
Also, remember that if the state is not ready for trial within a certain timeframe on your case, then the law requires that you be released on a personal bond or a bail amount that you can afford. The timeframe in question depends on the type of offense. If you are charged with a felony, the state must be ready for trial within 90 days from your arrest. Therefore, if the grand jury does not indict you within 90 days of your arrest, then you are entitled to relief. For class A misdemeanors, you are entitled to release if the state is not ready for trial within 30 days from your arrest. For class B misdemeanors, you are entitled to release if the state is not ready for trial within 15 days from your arrest. Finally, you are entitled to release if the state is not ready within 5 days if you are charged with an offense punishable by fine only. These rules relating to release due to delay do not apply to certain defendants: those serving a sentence of imprisonment on another case; those being detained on another case where the applicable period has not passed; those that are incompetent; and those being detained because they were previously released and violated conditions related to safety of the community or the victim.
The bail bond system in Texas is complex and can present challenges to those accused of a crime. In a future article, we will discuss other subtopics, such as how bail is set when a warrant is issued for probation revocation and the rules for fixing bond conditions (special rules you must follow while on bond).