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What Happens If You Jump Bail in Houston?

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When we think of “bail jumping,” the first thing that comes to mind is the popular reality show, Dog the Bounty Hunter. Now, you might think the mere thought of having Dog hunting you down is enough to convince you to make your court date, but in reality between 32,000 and 35,000 defendants jump bail each year in the United States. In Texas, one in four defendants don’t bother to show up for their trials, making it a state with one of the highest bail jumping rates.

So, what does bail jumping actually mean, how do jumpers get caught and what penalties can you expect for doing so? Here’s how it works.

What Bail Jumping Means

Jumping BailBail jumping is the act of failing to appear in court for your trial. This applies when an accused is arrested and posts bail to be released, then doesn’t show up for the trial. Even if you haven’t actually missed the court date, if it looks like you’re taking steps to avoid it you might be charged with Failing to Appear.

Charges for Jumping Bail

In Texas jumping bail is a crime, and the severity of the charges you’ll get depends on the amount of your bail and the crime you were accused of in the first place.

  • For example, if you’re charged with a Class C misdemeanor with a potential fine of up to $500, skipping out on your bail will likely draw you an additional Class C charge
  • If you’re charged with a Class A or Class B misdemeanor that are punishable by up to one year in county jail, then additional Class A charges will apply for skipping your trial
  • For felony charges carrying a sentence of two to 10 years in a state prison, additional 3rd Degree felony charges will be added to your case
  • To charge you with failing to appear, the prosecution has to show that you were eligible for bail by court order, that you failed to appear at the prescribed time and that you knew what you were doing when you decided not to appear

Getting Caught

Only around 10% of bail jumpers are never caught. The rest are eventually tracked down and end up fighting for justice on two fronts—the original charges and bail jumping.

Most suspects who disappear get tracked down by law enforcement or bounty hunters. They are then usually re-arrested under a no-bond warrant and charged. The second time around it’s unlikely the court will allow them to post bail.

Getting Justice

If you or a loved one has jumped bail for any reason, you’ll need to consult with an experienced Texas criminal defense lawyer who can mount an aggressive case on your behalf. Whether you’re innocent of the original charges against you or not, if you want to see justice done you need a skilled representative on your side.

Possible Defenses

There are certain circumstances the court will accept as logical reasons for missing a court date, so it’s in your interest to try and use these if you can. Some of the potential arguments a criminal defense attorney in Texas will likely recommend include:

  • Illness –  This must be serious enough to prevent the defendant from attending court. This includes hospitalization, and usually needs to be proved by medical records.
  • A Death in the Family – This only applies to immediate family members and will have to be proved by documentation such as a death certificate, proof of relationship and any other materials the prosecution might ask for. If your wife or mother dies, for example, you might escape charges of Failing to Appear. If your brother’s wife’s sister’s husband dies it might be a little harder.
  • You Didn’t Know You Had to Appear – This argument usually only works if there’s documentary evidence that you were given the wrong date or something similar.
  • Being Arrested or Imprisoned Somewhere Else – Once again, you’d have to show documentation to prove you were locked up and could not attend.
  • Your Lawyer Is Unable to be There – In this case, usually you or the lawyer would make alternative arrangements with the court. However, if on the morning of your trial your attorney is involved in a car accident, the court is likely to excuse you from appearing.

In all these cases, however, it’s essential that you turn yourself in at the earliest possible opportunity after the trial date if you want to avoid being charged with bail jumping.

Get a Houston Lawyer

Charges of Failing to Appear are serious, and if convicted you will face additional penalties. Your best bet in this type of case is to appoint a skilled criminal defense lawyer as soon as you realize the situation, who will be able to help you get justice.

*Image courtesy of Chris Yarzab

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