Bond forfeiture and bond forfeiture set-aside
If you have been charged with a crime, and you have been given a court date, there are consequences if you do not appear at that court date. I will talk about those consequences here. I am going to talk about Travis County with specificity and other counties in Texas generally.
If you are charged with a Class B misdemeanor or higher in Travis County, you may be released from jail on either a personal bond or on a surety bond by going through a bail bondsman. With either of these options, you will be given a subsequent court date and ordered to appear. You should not expect your case to be resolved at this court date. In Travis County, the first and often the second court date is handled by Court Administration, a department in the county that handles many administrative matters for the criminal courts. These are called “first” and “second first” settings and they are not assigned to an actual court. If you have an attorney, that attorney can handle your first court dates in Court Administration. If you do not have an attorney and wish to apply for a court appointed, you should appear at these court dates and ask for the court appointed attorney. After these first settings, you will be assigned to a court and told to return on a new date. After you are assigned to a court, you will be given a series of court dates in the court. Your case will generally take six months to a year to work out, and you will have a court date about once a month. If you are charged with a misdemeanor, your attorney, whether hired or appointed, will be able to “reset”– ie get you a new date – your case the first several times your case is on the docket. If you are charged with a felony, in most courts you will be required to appear every time. In some, you are not required to appear until after you are indicted by the grand jury.
If you are not required to appear, your attorney still has to reappear to reset you. If you are required to appear, then you and your attorney must appear in the court to reset you and get you a new date. If you have a court date and no one appears to reset you, the court will usually enter what’s called a “bond forfeiture”. This is not good and can have serious consequences. Within a few days of a bond forfeiture being entered, a “capias” – ie a warrant for your arrest – will issue. Also, within a few weeks of a bond forfeiture being entered, the civil division of the Travis County Attorney’s Office will file a civil suit against you personally if you were a released on a personal bond. The civil suit will seek the full amount of the bond in damages.
If there is a capias out for you, you can be arrested on it just like any other kind of warrant. If you were released on surety bond, the bail bonds company that secured your release will likely seek to arrest you themselves, which they have the power to do under Texas law.
If you have missed a court date, you need to be very proactive about getting your case back on the docket. You should not wait and hope for the best. Waiting can worsen the damage done by the bond forfeiture. You may want to contact your attorney or hire another one.
If a bond forfeiture has been entered by the court, in Travis County an attorney can do what’s called a “bond forfeiture set aside”. This is a motion done by an attorney to essentially undo the bond forfeiture. If the motion is granted and the order is signed by the judge, a new date is given for the case to be set on the court’s docket. The capias will be recalled. If a civil suit has not yet been filed, it will stop the civil suit from being filed by the County Attorney.
If a civil suit has already been filed prior to a bond forfeiture being done by an attorney, that complicates the process a bit. A set aside will not have the same effects, as a civil suit has already been filed. The judge may want you to settle the civil suit first before putting the case back on the docket and recalling the warrant. This generally costs about $300 for a misdemeanor. The judge may also mandate that you substitute a new personal bond in for the old one that has been forfeited by doing a walk-through at the bonding desk and being released on the new bond. Sometimes, the judge will recall the warrant, give you a new date, and reinstate the old bond and leave you to settle the civil suit at a later date.
If the case is resolved after a bond forfeiture but prior to a civil suit being filed, the attorney still needs to do a bond foreiture set aside to stop the civil suit from being filed.
If you have a case pending and have not heard from your attorney in some time or have not been told to come to court, or ifyou know for sure you have missed a court date, do not wait. Call an attorney and find out what’s going on your case before you get arrested on a capias. I am available to help with bond forfeiture set asides.