You’ve probably heard those bail bond commercials on the radio or have seen them on TV. Like most people, you might assume that an everyday person simply could not navigate certain parts of the legal system without a bondsman.
This is a common misconception. Here’s why: Although bondsmen play a heightened role in the criminal justice system right now, it doesn’t have to and may not always be that way.
It’s important to understand how the bail system and bail bonds work in Texas so that you will be able to make the best decision for yourself or a loved one is ever in the situation of needing to post bail.
Texas Bail and Bail Bonds
In the United States, we have the constitutional right of bail. This means if you are accused of a crime, you can, at a certain price, avoid jail time and resume your normal life until you are brought to trial and actually found guilty of the crime.
In the state of Texas, bail is defined as the security provided by an accused individual to guarantee that he/she will show up in court. This security is usually a personal bond or a bail bond.
Most people do not have the up-front cash (or a personal bond) to cover the cost of bail, especially when it’s $5,000, $10,000, or more. That is where bail bonds come in; for a certain amount of interest to be paid, a bond is issued to cover the cost of bail up-front.
The Role of Bail Bondsmen in Texas
After someone has been arrested for a crime, the judge will then usually set bail. The bail amount is generally set based on the crime itself, extenuating circumstances surrounding the crime, and the suspect’s criminal history.
For example, someone with a record of violent crimes or who is charged with fleeing from police or resisting arrest would likely get a higher bail than someone who was simply charged with shoplifting a small amount and has no prior charges.
(Occasionally a judge may release someone on their own recognizance, meaning no monetary bail is required.)
When You Can’t Afford Your Own Bail, Bondsmen Can Pay
When the accused cannot cover the full cost of bail with their own assets, they often turn to a bail bondsman or bond agent. Pricing in this situation will depend on the amount of bail and should be discussed right away with the bondsman.
Paying Your Bail Means the Bondsman Has Higher Stakes
By posting bail for the suspect, the bondsman now has a stake in making sure the individual appears in court. If the individual does not appear in court, then the full amount of the bail becomes due.
If You No-Show, the Bondsman Has Rights to More Than Just the Bail Amount
Since the bondsman had paid the bail upfront and would have gotten the money back had the individual appeared in court, he now can go after that individual for the full amount of the bond. Any collateral used to obtain the bond could be surrendered in this process (e.g. property).
Concerns About Bail Bonds in Texas
With commercial bail bonding, you generally have to pay some sort of premium, which is nonrefundable. This premium is usually 10% of the bail amount set, although sometimes it can be more.
Additionally, the defendant will have to put up some sort of collateral. If the defendant doesn’t have it, he may need someone, a friend or family member, to put up money or property. The collateral must also be for the entire amount of the bond.
As mentioned already, a bondsman also has significant powers to come after the defendant if he or she does not show up in court. A bondsman can even hire a bounty hunter to find the defendant, and these bounty hunters are not held to the same restrictions or standards as Texas police officers.
The Texas Bail System Has Come Under Fire
There has been a lot of support lately for changing the Texas bail system. Current policy in some of the state’s most populous counties has been found unconstitutional because it disproportionately hurts the indigent. That is, those who don’t have personal wealth suffer more than those who do.
As a result, there has been further scrutiny of its pretrial jailing practices. Thanks to inmate deaths and the murder of one state trooper, the calls for pretrial reform in Texas are now part of a nationwide movement to modernize the bail system.
Clearly, you want to avoid the situation of needing a bondsman entirely. If you or a loved one does find yourself facing possible jail time and bail you can’t afford, you want to consider all of your options before dialing up the closest bondsman.
Don’t rely on a soon-to-be-outdated process to guarantee your freedom. Save yourself time, energy, and money and skip the bail bondsman. Instead, contact an experienced Texas defense attorney.
About the Author:
After getting his Juris Doctor from the University of Houston Law Center, Jeff Hampton began practicing criminal law in Texas in 2005. Before becoming a defense attorney, he worked as a prosecutor for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office – experience he uses to anticipate and cast doubt on the arguments that will be used against his clients. Over the course of his career, he has helped countless Texans protect their rights and get the best possible outcome in their criminal cases. His skill has earned him recognition from the National Trial Lawyers (Top 100 Trial Lawyers) and Avvo (Top Attorney in Criminal Defense, Top Attorney in DUI & DWI, 10/10 Superb Rating), and he is Lead Counsel rated.