Harris County Bail Reforms – Working, or Wrong Track?

The entire nation has eyes on reforms to bail systems that have been implemented in recent years. Some have taken place in New Jersey, and others are hitting a little closer to home.

The basic problem with traditional cash bail systems, as many people in support of the reforms claim, is that people with little to no available cash to secure their release languish in jail until their trials. Others, often arraigned for severe, even violent or repeat, offenses, sometimes have large amounts of petty cash at their disposal, and can walk free within hours of their bail amounts being determined.

The reforms are intended to prevent defendants without large financial assets from sitting in jail for weeks or months, and streamline the trial process to benefit the strain on taxpayer dollars.

In Harris County, a reformed bail system went into effect earlier in the year, but it is raising many concerns within the police community and ordinary citizens.

This new Harris County system provides a new option for defendants charged with a variety of misdemeanor charges. The defendant no longer has to provide a large amount of cash to the court, or hire a bail bondsman, to secure their release before their trial date. Instead, they file an affidavit which lists their financial resources, assets, and is supposed to allow the court to determine whether they can legitimately afford their bail. If it is determined that the defendant cannot afford their bail, and remaining in jail until their trial would adversely harm their family or other life situations, then the defendant can be released without posting bail.

The basis for this new system is that the bail process is not supposed to detain and hold people because they are not wealthy; it is only supposed to ensure that they appear at their trial date. Under the previous system, defendants could essentially be warehoused until their misdemeanor trial because they could not afford to pay their bail, and this is now being viewed by many as a breach of one of the tenets of the American judicial system – “innocent until proven guilty”. The old system seems to unwittingly imply that you can be treated as guilty for the unintentional crime of not having a lot of petty cash.

The problem seems to be in the implementation of this new system. The police officers tasked with vetting the authenticity of the defendants’ financial statements on these affidavits of unsecured bonds are unable to complete their investigations, because of a second aspect of this system. The defendant must either produce bail money or be released less than 24 hours after their arrest. Not their arraignment, but their arrest. The officers, in some cases, are not provided with the financial statements to follow up on until 12 to 18 hours after the defendant’s arrest, and this shrinks the time frame for their vetting process drastically.

One of the examples provided as proof that this system is failing is that the failure to appear rate under the previous, traditional cash bail system steadily hovered at around 9%, for years. In this year alone, the failure to appear rate on these new unsecured bond releases has skyrocketed to 30%. Obviously, something has gone wrong, and this system is not working. People who were arrested and subsequently released are skating by, because they can, in theory, lie on these affidavits, and the police do not have the time to ferret out the truth before the defendant has been released, by law, because they said they didn’t have the money to pay their bail.

What do you think?

Is this system good in theory, but needs some help in practice?

Do we need to return to the previous bail system?

Let us know what you think in the comments!

How Can I Prepare for My Bail Hearing?

How does a bail hearing work?

Bail exists solely to secure your presence at future court hearings. The bail hearing is always your first court appearance, after your arrest. A judge or other judicial official will be present at this hearing, along with the prosecutor. You always have the right to have an attorney with you, present and there on your behalf. The prosecutor often makes a recommendation on what your bail should be to the judge. You or your attorney will then make a recommendation for what your bail amount should be, if any. The judge, in their own sound discretion, will determine the type and amount of bail after both sides have made their recommendations.

prepare for bail bond hearing

Forms of Bail

A judge takes many factors into account when determining your bail. sometimes, for crimes of less severity, bail may take the form of a written promise to appear in the future with a cash bail, should the conditions of your release be violated. You may be required to post cash, or some form of property, as your bail with the court before you can be released.

Factors that can Determine Bail Amount

In order to determine your bail, the judge may ask you questions about the following factors:

Seriousness of the alleged crime

If the alleged crime is a misdemeanor, the usual solution is a signature or lower-cash bond. Allegations of violence, drug crimes, or other threats to the community will be examined much more closely, and generally are never granted release with a signature bond.

Existing warrants

Outstanding warrants for previous crimes will results in your release being postponed. You will be detained until the jurisdiction that issued the outstanding warrant can respond. If the warrant is for a “failure to appear”, your bond hearing might be discontinued for a short time to allow the issuing jurisdiction to respond.

Family ties in the area

Your judge might want to know where you will be staying, and who you will be with throughout the duration of your case. These might be the people you will rely on to help you stay out of further trouble with the law.

Steady employment

You will be asked if you have a job. You must be prepared to tell the judge where you work, how long you have been employed there, and what hours you work. You might also be asked about your prior work history.

Property that you own

In more serious cases, the court will ask about your ownership of real estate, vehicles, or other types of personal property. A home, vacant real estate, or other personal property will sometimes be pledged to fulfill your bail.

Prior criminal history

A lack of prior arrests may operate as a mitigating factor with regards to the amount of your bail. prior convictions will almost always influence the judge to set a higher bail. The judge almost always has your record on their desk, and they will know if you lie. If you make that mistake, you may end up in jail until your next court appearance, with no hope of release until then.

History of drug or alcohol abuse

Substance abuse can impair judgement, even to the extent that a person may ignore future court dates. Prior drug or alcohol convictions often results in a higher bail amount. If you do post bail, you may be required to periodically text while on your pretrial release.

Prepare Bail Hearing Bail Amount

What if I cannot post my bail?

If you cannot post a bail bond, you can bring a motion to reduce the amount. Any reduction is entirely within the judge’s purview (their discretion). Be prepared to fully comply with any conditions the judge may order, so that your bail might be reduced.

How Judges Determine Bail Amounts

First, what is “bail?”

Bail is usually defined as an amount of money, given to a court to ensure that a criminal defendant will return for their court appearance after an arrest. People often hear about bail in criminal proceedings, and that “the judge set the bail at a certain amount;” but it can be hard for people without a background in legal professions to comprehend how the process actually works, and how a judge determines an appropriate bail amount.

Bail bonds amount and payment

How bail amounts are set

People without a first-hand understanding of legal proceedings may want to know how the judge knows the amount he or she sets will ensure the defendant returns to court, or what factors are involved in the bail amount determination. Thankfully, if you are one of those people with some of those question, you found this blog!

When a judge is determining the amount at which to set a defendant’s bail, he or she takes into consideration a variety of factors and key points. Some of these include:

The nature of the crime committed and the circumstances surrounding the crime

If the crime was of a particularly violent or dangerous nature, the bail amount may be high. Judges sometimes have particular guidelines that they follow when determining bail amounts for specific types or categories of crimes, but generally speaking, the worse the crime, the higher the bail.

The evidence against the defendant and how likely, or unlikely, it is to lead to a conviction

If there is a high amount of evidence, and a conviction seems very likely, bail may be set high, to dissuade the defendant from trying to make a run for it. The judge must use his or her best judgement to attempt to create a situation where the defendant does what they must according to the law.

The defendant’s history in their community

This generally includes family ties, mental state, finances, and employment history. A person with many ties to their community will generally stick close while they await their court date.

The past and present conduct of the defendant.

This can include whether they have ever been convicted of a crime in the past, and whether they ever failed to appear when previously called to court. It has been said that history will repeat itself, if given the chance. The judge may not want to provide that chance if a defendant has failed to appear, previously.

The defendant’s criminal history

This often includes the chance that they would be a threat to the community if they are released after their arrest. If the crime was unusually violent, the judge will almost always set bail higher, to protect the community.

The defendant’s current criminal status.

This can be a major factor in setting bail. If the defendant is already on parole, probation, or release from another crime, those factors will heavily impact the amount at which bail is set.

The source of the defendant’s finances.

This is a factor, especially if their income appears to stem from a history of criminal activity. For example, if the defendant is arrested for selling drugs, it may be likely that their income is mainly from that “enterprise”. The judge may need to adjust bail accordingly, to ensure the defendant appears at court when they are required to do so. If the arrest is on a drug-related charge. If drugs are involved in the case, the street value of the drugs has an impact on the amount of bail. A high value of drugs generally leads to a high bail amount. This usually coincides with more serious charges against the defendant.

Bail Bond amount and payment

So, who controls bail amounts?

In general, the laws give a judge a great amount of leeway and freedom in setting bail. Judges are allowed to consider any other factors that may seem relevant to the case, above and beyond the factors we discussed in this blog. There is no real set rule or guideline, though judges sometimes follow precedent (what judges before them have done in similar cases) to set bail.

What happens once bail is set?

After the bail amount is determined, the defendant goes through a process called “booking”. During this process, the defendant is given the opportunity to post their bail (a legal term for pay or arrange payment), or arrange to have their bail posted on their behalf at a later time. Once bail is posted, the defendant will be released, and will be required to wait for the arraignment of their case (the beginning of the trial process).

Bonus Round!

What is “flight risk?”

Flight risk is used to describe a defendant who is likely to NOT show up to their future court dates if they are allowed to post bail. Defendants with a high probability of flight risk may not be released at all, or bail may be set at an extremely high amount, to ensure they do not miss their future court appearances. If a defendant skipped town before a prior court appearance, it is likely the judge will not afford them a similar opportunity again. But, if a defendant is not considered a flight risk by the judge, then the defendant completes the booking and bail processes as described above, and is released with the understanding that they are responsible for appearing in court at their assigned time in the near future.

 

Does Posting Bail Affect Your Credit Score?

Financial Questions About Posting Bail

Resolving crime is difficult, and handling funds related to misdemeanors and felonies can be costly. When posting bail for a friend or loved one, individuals often wonder about credit score infractions and effects. Sometimes, suspects are released upon their recognizance—costing the individual nothing.

Often, wondering about one’s credit score during such an incident is part of the process. Bail falls beneath the umbrella of “monetary lending actions”, and most wonder about bail posting’s impact upon credit scores. Thankfully, the effects are minimal, and they are indirect.

Bail Bond Agencies

Bail’s minimal impact upon credit scores is attributed to third party intervention. If one cannot easily write a bail check, or if one’s credit is not high enough to put the expense on a credit card, bail bond agencies are often a next resort. In general, they are capable of posting bail for a small fee—normally 10 percent of the total bail amount.

This expense is normally creditable, though it’ll be treated as a credit card cash advance. These advances can be expensive, and they often contain the following, defining factors:

  • Require an initial three-percent fee
  • Require interest
  • Begins accruing immediately
  • No grace period
  • Raised Balances and Loans

Realistically, the only factor posing a significant risk to an individual’s credit score within context is a raised balance. A raised balance attributed to a bond agency’s fee and credit utilization may impact a credit score when raised too high.

Additionally, taking out a personal installment loan can affect one’s score. Initial hard inquiries will drop the score, but new loans may give one additional credit—improving their overall score. In such cases, checking credit scores through online databases may be useful.

Overall, posting bail is not too damaging to a credit score, though raising balances and procuring loan funds can hinder an individual’s credit score fundamentally. The act of posting bail, itself, is harmless—though resulting processes may fall within the realm of “credit-score-damaging actions”. Discussing such situations with a credit advisor is important, and determining a pre-set action plan can both streamline future action and prevent credit damage.

Call (817) 303-3400 with any more bail related questions.

Understanding Your Bail Bond Payment Options

Bond PaymentsWhen an arrest lands someone you care about in jail, your first reaction is to post bail quickly. Before releasing a defendant, the court wants assurance that the defendant will appear back in court on an appointed date; posting bail is how you provide that assurance. Often, people cannot afford to pay the entire bail amount. At Just Bail Bonds, we understand that and offer a variety of bond payment options.

Bail Payment Methods

Licensed bail bond agents operate day and night to provide assistance for those who are unable to post bail. Bail bond agents guarantee the bail bond in return for a nonrefundable payment of a set percentage of the full bail amount. Acceptable bail bond payment options include checks, major credit cards, and Western Union. In certain circumstances, credit terms are available.

Collateral on Bond

A written guarantee or personal signature provides an assurance on the total value of the bond. If the bail amount is significant, the bond requires backing with property of sufficient value to cover the total fee. Examples include recreational vehicles, boats, securities, jewelry, and electronics. In some cases, a lien on a house or vacant land is accepted as a form of collateral.

Cash Bail

When a judge sets bail, the defendant also has the option to pay the entire amount up front. When the case ends, the courts refund the amount, as long as the defendant makes all required court appearances. Payment options include cash, money order, certified and cashier’s checks, and checks from law enforcement and legal agencies.

Call for Advice

Our licensed bail bond professionals are available to consult with you regarding case specifics, financial issues, bond payment options, and any personal concerns that you might have. For dependable, confidential assistance, call Just Bail Bonds at (817) 303-3400 to speak with a licensed bail bond agent.

How to Find Out Someone’s Bail Amount

ThereBail Amount are a number of ways to find out at what amount bail has been set for a defendant. All you need is a telephone and some form of directory, whether it be a phone book or an internet search engine. We at Just Bail Bonds offer the following tips for getting answers when you need to know a bail amount.

Call the Courthouse

The county courthouse can provide information regarding the amount of the bail, as long as you can provide certain information regarding the identity of the defendant. The courthouse number can be found in the government pages of a phonebook or through the web on an online directory. The information required from you may include the defendant’s name, address, date of birth, and possibly a case or inmate number.

Ask a Lawyer

If the case necessitates legal counsel, the courts will let the attorney know what the bail amount is. Again, information such as name and date of birth may be required. Once the attorney or office staff locates the case, the amount of the bail may be disclosed

Call a Bondsman

A bail bondsman is any person or representative of a person who is paid to uphold surety on a bail bond. The bail bond agent is in business to guarantee that a defendant will appear in court after release from jail. Once a bail bondsman is hired, he or she can contact the courts to find out the exact amount of bail.

At Just Bail Bonds, we arrange bail bonds as quickly and efficiently as possible in order to gain a speedy release and let people begin to move on with their lives. Defendants and signers should be aware of the conditions of a bail bond, including the requirements of repayment for the bail amount. Contact us at (214) 272-0792 for help and information about Dallas bail bonds.

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