Understanding Personal Bonds in Legal Proceedings

If you are arrested and charged with a crime, you will usually be asked to return to court at a later date for further proceedings. Most people would prefer to go home and get on with their lives while waiting for their next court date, but to be released from custody, you may need to post bail.

Depending on the severity of the accusations, the nature of the crime, your flight risk, and various other factors, you may be granted a personal bond—also known as a P.R. (Personal Recognizance) bond, which would allow you to leave jail without paying the bail amount upfront. Instead, you effectively promise to return or pay the full bail amount.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll uncover everything you need to know about personal bonds in legal proceedings, including what they are, who’s eligible, and how it’s authorized, as well as the consequences of violating the terms of a P.R. bond.

What is a Personal Bond?

A personal bond is a contractual agreement between the court, the county, and a defendant.

If granted a personal bond, you will be released from custody based on your promise to comply with all outlined conditions and appear for scheduled court proceedings.

The advantage of a personal bond is that you don’t have to cough up thousands of dollars upfront just to be able to go home and prepare for your trial. However, if you violate the terms of your bond, or fail to attend future court dates, you risk facing severe consequences.

Contractual Method: The Tripartite Agreement

For a personal recognizance bond to be issued, a tripartite agreement is used to ensure a formal understanding between the three parties involved: the defendant, the county, and the presiding judge.

This contractual arrangement is designed to balance the safeguarding of two core societal values: public safety and individual liberty while awaiting trial.

As the individual facing criminal charges, you must agree to take personal responsibility for complying with the terms set out in the bond or risk facing severe legal ramifications. Sometimes, the terms of a P.R. bond include activities that you may have to fund yourself—for example, if you must attend court-ordered classes, you’ll be required to cover the expenses.

The county, usually through pretrial services, will conduct an interview to determine whether you are a good candidate for release while awaiting trial. They are responsible for collecting and presenting information to the judge about your potential threat to public safety. They will also assess if your release should include supervision—and if so, determine the level and type of supervision required.

Finally, the judge decides to grant or deny the personal bond based on both the information they have been provided and their own assessment of a potential risk to public safety.

Navigating Consequences: Failure to Appear and Legal Ramifications

When you agree to P.R. bond, you are contractually obligated to attend future court dates. A failure to appear can result in severe consequences, including: 

  • Revocation and Arrest Warrant: The judge may revoke your personal bond if you fail to appear for trial. If this happens, a warrant will be issued for your arrest, and you’ll be brought back into custody until either another type of bond is granted or until your case is resolved.
  • Additional or stricter conditions imposed: If the personal bond is not revoked, a failure to show up to court proceedings may lead to a harsher set of conditions set by the judge. These could include regular check-ins with a supervisor or officer, mandatory classes, or electronic monitoring with an ankle monitor.
  • Additional charges: Failure to appear is an offense on its own. This means that—as well as your original charges—you can face new charges and penalties for failure to appear in court when required. The severity of the new charges will depend on various factors, including the seriousness of the original offense and the jurisdiction.
  • Future bail implications: If you violate the terms set out in your personal bond, obtaining a personal bond in the future will be much more challenging because prior violations are considered when the court and state assess your risk of flight.

This is not an exhaustive list of the consequences you could face for “jumping bail.” Remember, the seriousness of the legal ramifications will differ for individual circumstances. If you believe you’ve violated the terms of your personal bond, you should contact your criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible to seek advice.

Securing Authorization: The Judge’s Signature

Even if pretrial services assess that you do not pose a risk to public safety, a personal bond can only be authorized with a signature from the judge. Whether a bond is granted is entirely up to the judge’s discretion—they may sometimes deny a personal bond if they assess that there may be a risk of repeat offenses, non-compliance, or a danger to public safety.

Seeking advice from a criminal defense attorney can increase the likelihood of a personal bond being granted. For example, an attorney can provide relevant documents or helpful information to the judge, such as community ties that may otherwise have been overlooked.

Once the conditions of the personal bond have been thoroughly explained, you will also have to sign the document to acknowledge your obligation.

Judicial Decision-Making: Factors in Granting Personal Bonds

The two criteria that will contribute the most to the judge’s decision are:

  • Your risk of flight: The likelihood of you failing to appear for future court proceedings.
  • Danger to public safety: The likelihood of you posing a danger to other members of the public.

Several factors are taken into consideration to decide whether you meet these criteria, including:

  • Nature and circumstances of the offense: The seriousness of the offense, potential threats to members of the public, and the probability of a conviction will all be considered.
  • Weight of evidence: A personal bond may be denied if there is substantial and tangible evidence that the crime was committed.
  • Family ties: Family ties, ties to the community, relationships, and the length of a person’s residency may all contribute to the judge’s decision.
  • Character and mental condition: Positive character references from trusted members of the community can be used to promote a favorable decision from the judge. Conversely, a record of substance abuse or a reputation for recklessness or danger may work against you.   
  • Record of convictions: A prior criminal record, including juvenile offenses, may be used to deny a personal bond—depending on the nature of the offenses or the likelihood of a repeat offense.
  • Appearance record at court proceedings: Your prior record of appearances (or non-appearances) at court proceedings. Any prior attempts to avoid prosecution by fleeing.

Boundaries of Authorization: When Judges May Deny Personal Bonds

Generally, as long as you’re eligible, you do not pose a risk to public safety, and you are not deemed at risk of fleeing, a judge will probably grant a personal bond.

However, several circumstances may result in a refusal to grant a personal bond. For example, where the conditions of a previous release have been violated—especially if the violation was related to the safety of members of the public or the victim of the offense. Similarly, a record of a prior failure to appear in court increases your perceived flight risk.

Other circumstances that can lead to a refusal for a PR bond (or bail) include a credible belief that you may obstruct justice through influencing, intimidating, or threatening witnesses or that you might destroy evidence.

Finally, your chances of being granted a personal bond are drastically reduced for repeat offenses.

Texas Senate Bill 6 (The Damon Allen Act)

Some jurisdictions have additional criteria for Personal Bond eligibility. The new SB6 law in Texas was enacted in 2021 to enhance public safety by introducing more stringent rules for who can be granted Personal Bonds.

The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Art. 17.03., states that “…a defendant may not be released on personal bond if the defendant…” is charged with an offense “involving violence.”

The code provides a list of what is considered by law as “offenses involving violence”. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Murder
  • Kidnapping
  • People trafficking
  • Sexual assault
  • Injury to a child, elderly individual, or disabled person
  • Compelling prostitution

If a defendant in Texas is facing charges for the above offenses (or any other offense “involving violence”), they may not be granted a Personal Bond.

Fees Associated with Personal Bonds

The advantage of a personal bond is that you’re not expected to pay the bond amount upfront. However, depending on jurisdiction, you may still have to pay an administration fee.

Depending on other bond conditions set out by the court, there may be additional associated costs. If you’ve been ordered to attend educational classes, you must pay for these. Similarly, if you have to install an ignition interlock device, you will be expected to cover the costs. Remember, a failure to comply with court-ordered conditions can result in a revocation of the P.R. bond and your return to jail.

Information Included on a Personal Bond

Critical information included on a personal bond includes your name, full address, date of birth, court date, the location of the court—including the city and county names, the conditions of your release, and your signature—confirming the acknowledgment of your obligations and your oath.

Supervision of Bond Conditions

If your bond has conditions attached, you may be placed under Pretrial supervision. The objective of Pretrial supervision is to ensure you comply with the conditions of your bond, which includes attending court proceedings.

As such, you may need to report to a supervision officer from Pretrial Services to confirm your compliance with conditions such as installing an ignition interlock device or demonstrating that you’re attending court-ordered classes. Sometimes, you may be required to attend regular appointments with a supervision officer. The judge typically determines the level of supervision when granting the personal bond.

Eligibility for a Personal Bond

Various factors are considered when determining eligibility for a personal bond, including prior convictions, residency, and a record of court appearances. Ultimately, eligibility is decided by the judge. However, some factors can render an individual ineligible for a personal bond. For example, if a defendant has a “hold” in another jurisdiction where they’re facing charges that they haven’t posted bail for, they may not be eligible for a personal bond.

Alternatives if a Personal Bond is Not Granted

A personal bond is just one way of securing release while awaiting trial. Other options include surety bail bonds and cash bonds.

Cash bonds require you to pay the total bond amount in cash—i.e., post bail—before you’re released from jail. If you then fail to appear in court, the state may keep the total bond amount. Sometimes, you may have to pay a small administrative fee on top of the bail amount.

If a friend or family member posts bail on your behalf, they risk forfeiting the total amount if you do not show up to court.

A surety bond requires you to secure the services of a bail bondsman. For a surety bond, you—or, usually, a family member outside jail—will pay a percentage fee of the total bond amount and guarantee the rest with collateral. The collateral can take the form of deeds, property, jewelry, or other assets.

The bail bondsman will then apply for the total remaining amount of the bail from a surety company and, if approved, post bail.  

Influence of Attorneys on Personal Bond Decisions

A criminal defense attorney can help to promote a favorable decision on personal bonds. They’ll be able to identify helpful background information and documents related to your case that could influence the judge’s decision. For example, they could highlight your connections to the community, including family ties and positive relationships with local organizations and businesses.

FAQs About Personal Bond

What Is the Essence of Personal Bonding? 

A personal bond is a contractual agreement between a defendant, a judge, and the county, where the defendant promises to return for future court proceedings and comply with certain conditions in return for securing release from jail without having to pay the full bond amount.

How Does the Process of Authorizing a Personal Bond Unfold?

Pretrial Services will gather information about the defendant when the defendant is taken into custody. They will present the information to the judge, who will ultimately decide whether the defendant is eligible for a personal bond. The judge’s decision is based on two criteria:

  • The defendant’s risk of flight
  • The defendants risk of danger to public safety

If granted, the judge will set the conditions and sign the personal bond, thereby authorizing it.

How Are Bond Conditions Supervised and Monitored?

Defendants released into the community are monitored and supervised by Pretrial Services. Regular appointments with a supervision officer take place to ensure that bond conditions are met and that the defendant is turning up to court when required.

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