If you’ve been charged with a criminal offense in Texas, you’re probably worried about remaining in jail until your case is heard. What will happen to your family if you stay in custody? Will you lose your job? How will the community react?
The good news is that you may be able to secure your release on bond until you have to appear in court. In this blog, we’ll go over the basics of understanding bond fees, the various types of bonds you may qualify for, and how a Texas criminal defense lawyer can help you overcome common challenges in obtaining one.
The Basics of Bond Fees
A bond is essentially a financial agreement made with the court. It acts as a guarantee that you will appear for your scheduled court date. If you use a bond company to secure the necessary amount, it will likely charge a fee, and when you show up as promised, the bond fee is usually returned, minus any administrative costs. This system allows you to remain free and live your normal life while you await the outcome of your case.
In Texas, the average fee is around 10% of the bond total. However, Chapter 17.04 of the Texas Occupations Code allows counties to regulate these fees and bond companies may charge upwards of 15% to 20%.
Types of Bonds
There are various kinds of bonds in the Texas criminal justice system, and understanding bond fees means being aware of them. This section will cover the ones you’re most likely to encounter and explain how they work.
Cash bonds require you or someone else to pay the full bond amount up front. Depending on where you are located, you can pay with exact cash, cashier’s checks, or money orders in the amount of the bond.
If you attend all required court dates, the court returns the funds after your case concludes, minus any applicable fees. In some cases, the U.S. Attorney’s Office may ask the court to have part or all of the money applied to any imposed debts, such as fines or restitution.
With surety bonds, a third party (usually a bail bond company) posts the required amount with the understanding that they may forfeit the money if you don’t show up. You pay a nonrefundable fee to the company in exchange for their posting the bond. After your release, you will likely have to abide by certain conditions, such as meeting your bondsman at certain times and calling them regularly to check in.
A property bond lets you or someone else use home equity as collateral to secure your release. The home will usually need to be appraised and receive a lien. If you fail to appear, the court can take legal action against the property to recover the bond amount. Because there is so much work involved, judges often request that the property be valued at 150% of the original bail amount.
Citation Release or Cite Out
Authorized under article 14.06 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, citation releases (or cite outs) occur when law enforcement issues you a ticket instead of arresting you. This citation, which orders you to appear in court at a later date, is commonly used for traffic violations and relatively minor offences like certain Class C misdemeanors and possession of marijuana less than 4 oz.
Recognizance or Personal Recognizance (PR) Bonds
A recognizance or personal recognizance (PR) bond releases you from custody without having to pay anything. It is based on your promise to appear in court. If the judge believes that you are trustworthy and will return without a financial incentive, they may grant a PR bond.
Determining the Bond Amount
In Texas, the process of setting a bond amount takes several important factors into account. They include the alleged crime, your criminal history, the chance of you being a flight risk, and any ties you may have to the community.
The Alleged Crime
The nature and severity of the alleged crime is perhaps the most influential factor. In Texas, courts follow a bond schedule that specifies amounts based on the nature of the offense, although they have the discretion to change these amounts based on the specifics of the case.
The defendant’s criminal history is another key consideration. If someone has a record of previous offenses, the court might set a higher bond, especially if they are similar to the current charge. This approach reflects a concern about the likelihood of reoffending or failing to comply with court requirements.
If someone is considered a flight risk, the court is more likely to impose a higher bond. The idea is that if someone has to pay a large amount of money to be released, they are more likely to stay and attend their court dates. This higher amount acts as a stronger financial deterrent against skipping town.
Factors like family connections, employment status, and how long the person has lived in the community can influence the bond amount. Strong community ties often lead to a lower bond, as they indicate the individual is more likely to stay and face their charges.
Ultimately, the bond amount is set to ensure that the individual appears for their court dates while balancing the need for public safety and the defendant’s right to reasonable bail / bond.
Failure to Pay and Consequences
Failure to pay is not as common these days, as most bond amounts are either cash only or payable in full up front. However, people are still occasionally released from jail before paying the bond or bond fees. If they don’t honor their obligation, it can lead to consequences like the following:
- Arrest: A warrant for your arrest is one of the immediate consequences. This means you can be taken into custody at any time. The failure to honor a bond is viewed as a violation of the court’s trust and a disregard for the legal process, which can lead to harsher treatment by the court.
- Return to Jail: If you don’t pay, you haven’t fulfilled your part of the contract and can be returned to jail. If you used a bond agency, it is no longer responsible for you or to the court.
- Loss of Collateral: Failure to honor a bond can result in the loss of any collateral you put up. This loss can have long-term financial repercussions for you and your family.
- Civil Lawsuit: Bond agencies can take the matter to civil court if you don’t pay what you owe. Courts frequently side with the agencies in these cases and can order payment from you. This might include garnishing your wages.
Not meeting bond obligations in Texas can escalate your legal troubles, both in the immediate sense and in the long-term implications for your case and financial situation. To avoid these serious consequences, it’s important to understand and comply with all bond terms.
Legal Assistance for Bond Fee Challenges
A Texas criminal defense lawyer can be a big help when you’re facing challenges with understanding bond fees. They can make sure you know how bond fees work, what types are available, and what’s expected of you. This includes explaining any terms and conditions related to your bond. A lawyer can also argue for a lower bond amount on your behalf. They’ll present information to the court about your background, ties to the community, and any other factors that might convince a judge to reduce the bond.
Other advantages of working with a skilled defense lawyer include:
- Dealing with Payment Issues: If you’re having trouble paying the bond fee, a lawyer can talk to the court to try to find a solution. This might include setting up a payment plan or even requesting a different type of bond that’s easier for you to manage.
- Helping with Bond Companies: If you’re using a bondsman, a lawyer can help you understand the contract and ensure that the terms are fair. They can also advise you on any legal issues that might come up with the bondsman.
- Representing You in Court: If there are any hearings related to your bond, your lawyer will represent you. They can speak for you and make sure your side of the story is heard.
FAQs About Bond Fee
How Does Not Paying the Personal Bond Fee Affect My Case?
With a personal bond, you swear that you will return to court as ordered and comply with the conditions placed on your release. You don’t need to pay anything up front, but there is usually a fee involved. In Travis County, for example, you need to pay an administrative fee to Travis County Pretrial Services within seven days of release. The amount will vary depending on the situation:
- In the case of bonds less than $1334, the processing fee is $20.
- Processing fees are $40 if the bond amount is greater than or equal to $1334.
- In cases in which the judge has ordered the Ignition Interlock Device (IID) to be installed, the processing fee is 3% of the bond amount, up to a maximum of $300.
Although you should pay this personal bond fee, it doesn’t affect the case itself if you don’t. Pretrial Services will eventually send you letters stating that you owe the money, but it will be treated as a separate issue. Your attorney can answer any questions you may have in this regard.
When Should I Settle the Personal Bond Fee?
Although you have a certain amount of time to settle the fee, prompt payment is important because it shows the court that you’re taking your legal obligations seriously. If you’re having trouble paying the bond fee right away, communicate this fact to the court or your attorney. They can give you advice on what to do next, like asking for a payment plan or a different arrangement that makes it easier for you to meet this obligation.
Are There Any Other Fees Associated with Bonds?
Yes, there can be additional fees associated with bonds. Depending on the circumstances, they might include:
- Bondsman Fees: If you use a bondsman, you will pay a non-refundable fee, which is typically a percentage of the bond amount. This fee is for the bondsman’s service and separate from the bond itself.
- Administrative or Processing Fees: Courts, jails, or bond companies can charge administrative or processing fees related to the bond. These fees cover the costs of handling the bond paperwork and other administrative tasks.
- Monitoring Fees: If your release conditions include electronic monitoring, like an ankle bracelet, you may be required to pay for the cost of this monitoring.
Understanding bond fees is important so you can plan accordingly. If you’re unsure, consult with your attorney or the entity handling your bond for a breakdown of all potential costs.
What’s the Minimum Bond Amount?
The minimum bond amount can vary depending on the specific circumstances of each case and the type of offense involved. A judge or magistrate sets bond amounts based on various factors, including the nature of the crime, the defendant’s criminal history, and the risk that they will flee.
For minor offenses, such as low-level misdemeanors, the bond amount can be relatively low, sometimes just a few hundred dollars. However, for more serious charges, such as repeat DWI, the amount can be upwards of several thousand dollars.
What Can Serve as Collateral for a Bail Bond?
Collateral is something of value that you or a cosigner offer to guarantee the bond. It is used as a guarantee that you will comply with the bond’s conditions. If you don’t meet them, the bail bond agent can take the collateral to recover the bond amount. Common types of collateral include:
- Real Estate: This can be a house, land, or other types of property. The property must usually have enough equity to cover the bond amount.
- Vehicles: Cars, trucks, motorcycles, boats, or other vehicles can serve as collateral. The vehicle should be fully paid off and have a value equivalent to or more than the bond amount.
- Valuables: Items like jewelry, art, antiques, or high-end electronics can also be used. These items should be appraised for their current market value.
- Investments: You can pledge stocks, bonds, or savings accounts as collateral. The value of these investments should be sufficient to cover the bond.
- Other Assets: In some cases, items like electronics, collectibles, or even high-quality equipment can be used, depending on their value and the policies of the bail bond company.
It’s important to remember that if you fail to meet the bond conditions, you risk losing the collateral. Be sure to fully understand the terms and conditions before offering something as collateral for a bail bond.
Ben has vast experience in defending criminal cases ranging from DWIs to assault, drug possession, and many more. He has countless criminal charges dismissed and pled down. Among many other awards, one of the Top 10 Criminal Defense Attorneys in Texas and winner of Top 40 under 40.