bail jumping and failure to appear

Bond Fofeiture and Civil Suit: What Happens When You Don't Show Up to Court

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. 







Warrant Round Up is Here!

Some of you may have gotten “warrant round up” notices in the past several weeks. Texas’ Warrant Round Up started February 15, 2017 and it will last several weeks. 


Over three hundred agencies participate in Warrant Round Up.  Austin Municipal Court and many of the justice courts (JPs) in Travis County participate.  If you have a warrant that is not in one of these jurisdictions, you can still be arrested for your warrant during this time, but it will just be coincidental instead of part of the coordinated effort these other jurisdicitions are undertaking.


Warrant Round Up focuses mostly on Class C misdemeanor warrants.  Class C misdemeanors are the lowest level misdemeanors in Texas law and they are punishable by fine only, usually up to $500. 


However, there are some instances in which you can be taken to jail for a Class C misdemeanor.  I will deal with two here.   


I.                    Failure to Appear:  “Open” Tickets


If you receive a Class C ticket, and you fail to appear and it remains open, meaning no action has been taken since the issuance of the citation, in most jurisdictions a warrant will issue.  In some courts, you may also be charged with a subsequent Class C offense of Failure to Appear. You will have a warrant on that new Failure to Appear as well.  You can be taken to jail on these “open ticket” warrants.  What happens when you are arrested for these kinds of warrants depends on the jurisdiction.  For an Austin Municipal Court ticket, you may be given the option of pleading guilty at magistration at the jail and agreeing to pay the ticket, or you may be given a court date if you plead not guilty and told to appear in Austin Municipal Court. For Travis County tickets, you may be taken to the court of jurisdiction, which may happen the next business day depending on what time of day you get arrested.


If you have Class C tickets that are “open”, there are several options on how to dispose of those and get the warrants cleared.  Some are better than others.  Here are some of them:


1)      You can always plead no contest and agree to pay.  In Austin Municipal Court, you can go to the courthouse or satellite stations and do this without having to fear being arrested.  There are drawbacks to this option of which you should be aware.  Simply telling a court staffer you want to plead guilty and pay the ticket waives any chance you have at negotiating the fine down with a court prosecutor.  You will pay the full amount plus some extra court costs for letting it go to warrant.  Secondly, depending on the charge, there may be collateral consequences for pleading no contest.  Pleading no contest to driving while license invalid, no drivers license, or failure to maintain financial responsibility where you already have one conviction could trigger a license suspension and will cause surcharges on your license to be assessed. If you did not have an eligible driver’s license at the time you got a moving violation, and you pay it, this could trigger a DPS departmental suspension of your license because you are admitting by paying the ticket and pleading no contest that you were driving without a license. 


2)      You can post bond with the court and put your case back on the docket.  This will allow you to speak with the prosecutors at a court date and negotiate to pay less and potentially keep it off your record, avoiding any collateral consequences that could come with a conviction. This may be an expensive undertaking as bond in some courts can be double the fine.


3)      You can hire an attorney to designate on your cases and put them back on the docket.  Usually this is done by sending a letter to the court in which the attorney says s/he’s going to be responsible for the case.  Sometimes, the attorney has to post an attorney surety bond with the court.  Once this happens, the warrant will be rescinded, and the attorney will appear in court for you, speak with the prosecutor in that court, and get a deal worked out for you.  Many times this deal will allow you to keep a conviction for the Class C off your record and will be cheaper to resolve than just simply paying the ticket. I am available to do this work across the state of Texas.


II.                 Commitment Warrants – Satisfying the Judgment


If you receive a Class C ticket and there has been a judgment -- ie, you have pled no contest or been convicted at trial – you have to pay or otherwise satisfy that judgment. If you do not, a “commitment” will issue.  This is a kind of warrant.  At that point the ticket is no longer “open”.  It is in “commitment” status.  That means you cannot change your mind under most circumstances and change what you agreed to pay or even that you agreed to pay.  Its done; you simply have to fulfill your obligation as agreed.


If you’ve already pled on your citation and have agreed to pay, but you cannot, you can sometimes go back to the court and ask to be put on a payment plan for an amount you can pay per month.  Often times this agreement will be enough for the court to rescind the warrant.  In extreme circumstances, you can ask the court to find you indigent and allow you to do community service at a non profit, non religious, non political charitable organization.  If you are asking for a court to find you indigent, it is important to bring documentation to support your claim you are indigent.  Tax returns, pay stubs, or proof that you receive government assistance can help prove to the court that you are indigent. You can also get jail credit applied to these tickets if you have been to jail while these warrants were active – even if it is was not holding you or you were not arrested on these warrants specifically.  How much credit a day in jail will give you depends on the court.


It is easier by far to take care of warrants prior to hearing the knock on your door.  At that point, your only option will be to pay the ticket or go to jail for several hours or even a few days depending on the jurisdiction.  Don’t wait for that to happen. If you would like to speak with me regarding your Class C warrants, I am happy to do a free phone consultation to run down what your options are. 


What is a cite and release?

What is a “cite and release”?

I have mentioned “cite and release” in prior articles. I will explain more about this option here.

Cite and release is an option under Texas law that allows police to write a citizen a citation when there is probable cause to arrest them for a Class B or Class A misdemeanor. The police write this citation instead of taking the person to jail.

If you receive a citation for a Class A or B misdemeanor, you still have to answer for this allegation. On the citation, there will be a court date. In Travis County, this court date will be in Justice of the Peace Precinct 5. You will report on that court date for magistration and release on personal bond. After reporting in Precinct 5, you will be sent to Pretrial Services to fill out the personal bond form and do an interview to gather some information for your release on personal bond. After that is finished, you will go back to Justice of the Peace Precinct 5 and be magistrated by the judge. You will be told your rights in the process and told what the charge is, and a bond will be set. Then the judge will sign your personal bond.

After your personal bond is signed, you will be sent to the bonding desk for a “walk-through”. At the bonding desk, you will be placed temporarily under arrest. Your booking photo will be taken and your fingerprints will be taken. Then you will be released on the personal bond signed by the judge with a court date to appear in the County Court at Law.

After that, the regular process for Class A and Class B misdemeanors will begin.

Common misconceptions about cite and release abound. The most common is that a cite and release is a Class C ticket. Any time you receive anything from an officer, you need to read it very carefully. You need to determine if it is truly a Class C ticket that can be paid, or a cite and release on which you need to do a walk through. If you have an encounter with the police in which they discover marijuana, and you receive a “ticket” – that is a cite and release. It is not a Class C; there are no Class C marjiuana offenses in Texas, no matter how small the amount was. Do not think you can blow off a cite and release like you can a Class C ticket—you will be charged with a Class A bail jumping and failure to appear. If/when you are arrested for the original offense for which you missed your walk through date, you will also probably have a charge for Class A bail jumping and will have to bond out for both.

Another common misconception is that officers HAVE to give you a cite and release for certain offenses. This is not true. Austin Police and Travis County Sheriff’s Office are two of the only agencies in the state who participate in the cite and release option. Other agencies in the Central Texas area and throughout the state likely do not participate in the program and you should not expect to get cite and release from any agency outside APD and Travis County. Even if you have an encounter with APD or Travis County, they are not required to write you a cite and release. You can still get taken to jail if if the officers deem it appropriate.

Cite and release is only available for Class A and B misdemeanors. It is not available for felonies.

If you get a cite and release or a Class C, or you received something from a police officer and do not know what it is, I am happy to evaluate your situation and determine what you are facing.

Why Its Important to Go To Court on Class A and Class B misdemeanors

Why it is important to go to court on your court dates:  part two --- Class A and B misdemeanors


In this article I am going to run down what happens if you miss a court date on a Class A or Class B misdemeanor.  I will talk about Travis County specifically and then in general terms about possibilities throughout the state of Texas.


None of the consequences of missing a court date on a Class A or Class B misdemeanor are good and they should be avoided at all costs.  If you are facing emergency circumstances, you should contact your lawyer if you have one or the court you are supposed to report to if you do not have a lawyer and explain the circumstances.  Simply not showing up will result in things that can lead to you spending more time in jail than necessary.


Bail Jumping and Failure to Appear:  If you have been charged with a Class B or Class A misdemeanor and miss a court date, you could very well be charged with an additional Class A misdemeanor of Bail Jumping and Failure to Appear.  The court staff has to go through a procedure to ensure you are indeed not present in order to charge you with this, but regardless of whether or not you are technically guilty, being charged with this will complicate your life.  You will have a warrant out on the new charge of Bail Jumping and Failure to Appear and probably on the underlying original charge as well, and you are risking arrest on both.  If you are arrested on both charges, even in Travis County it will be very unlikely you will get a personal bond.  You will have to use a bail bondsman to post a surety bond on both cases, which costs you much more money than just bonding out on the original charge. 


Being charged with Bail Jumping and Failure to Appear is not likely in Travis County except in one instance.  This is only charged when you are given a cite and release – explained in other articles, this is when you are given a citation on a Class B or Class A misdemeanor instead of going to jail and given a court date to report in a Justice of the Peace court – and you do not show up.  In this instance, the County Attorney will file a Bail Jumping and Failure to Appear charge and you will be expected to post bond on this and the original charge in order to bond out if arrested. 


Bond Forfeiture: If you are out on bond for a Class A or Class B misdemeanor – either personal or surety bond – and you fail to appear for court, your posted bond will be “forfeited”.  This means you no longer have a good bond.  A warrant will be issued for your arrest. 


In Travis County, the County Attorney will file a civil suit against you if you are out on personal bond for the full amount of the bond set when you were originally magistrated.  You may get a default judgment against you if you do not file an answer to this civil suit.  It may go to collections or be placed on your credit report.  It is easy to settle these suits for much less than the full amount but you will still have to pay something.  You may not be able to get the warrant withdrawn and get back on the court’s docket in good standing with a good bond if there is a civil suit.  It is up to the court.  Some will expect you to settle the civil suit first. If you are out on surety bond, the civil suit will be filed against your bail bondsman and in turn, your bail bondsman will seek to get the money they pay to settle it from you. 


If you have a bond forfeiture and are arrested on the warrant that was issued, a new and higher bond will be set and you will not be eligible for personal bond.  No judge except the no one presiding over your case will be inclined to release you except in rare circumstances – so if you are arrested on a weekend you will be there until Monday when the judges come back.  You will have to hire an attorney except in rare circumstances to ask the judge to do a bond forfeiture set aside, reinstate your bond, release you on the reinstated bond, and put you back on the docket with another court date. 


In some places around Texas, both a new Bail Jumping/Failure to Appear charge will be filed and a bond forfeiture will be entered.  It is very complicated to sort this out and you may not have a method of being released except posting a new surety bond. 


The moral of the story is:  don’t miss court and if you do, tell the court your circumstances – which have to be an emergency – prior to not showing up.  Don’t just throw your hands up and hope for the best.  You will not like what happens.


If you have a bond forfeiture or warrants out on an original charge and Bail Jumping/Failure to Appear – call me today.  I’m happy to help.