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A Guide to Bail Hearings in Texas

When you or a loved one is arrested in Texas, the immediate concern is often how to secure release from jail. Navigating the legal maze can be overwhelming, but understanding the bail hearing process is the first step toward regaining your freedom.

This blog post will demystify the bail hearings in Texas, providing the essential knowledge to ensure you or your loved one can post bail and return home while awaiting trial. Read on to discover the key elements and factors that influence the outcome of a bail hearing and empower yourself with the information needed to navigate this critical legal process.

What is a Bail Hearing?

Let’s first understand that bail is typically money or some other form of property pledged to the court in exchange for a defendant’s temporary freedom, with the understanding that the defendant is to return for trial. To determine the specifics of this arrangement, a bail hearing is conducted.

A bail hearing is a court proceeding where a judge determines whether a defendant should remain in jail or be released into the community while awaiting trial. This decision may occur at an initial appearance or a designated bail hearing. The judge reviews any predetermined bail amount and may adjust it to ensure it is reasonable and that the defendant will return for future court appearances.

During the hearing, the judge balances the presumption of innocence with public safety. This ensures the defendant doesn’t commit more crimes or cause harm while on bail. If approved, the defendant is released with specific conditions that must be strictly followed. Failure to comply with these conditions can result in the defendant returning to jail until their next court date.

Bail Eligibility in Texas

In Texas, individuals charged with non-capital crimes usually have the right to request bail. However, capital crimes, which can result in the death penalty, are generally ineligible for bail. Some jails have predetermined, non-negotiable bail schedules for common offenses, allowing defendants to post bail directly from custody without a court hearing.

In other cases, a judge or court officer sets bail, usually within 48 hours of the defendant being charged, at a bail hearing. Although there are no rigid eligibility criteria for requesting bail, various factors can influence the decision to grant bail.

Factors Influencing Bail Eligibility

  1. Nature of the Crime:
    • Non-Capital Crimes: Defendants charged with non-capital crimes, such as misdemeanors or lower-level felonies, usually qualify for bail. These crimes often have predetermined bail amounts.
    • Violent Crimes: For violent offenses such as murder, kidnapping, human trafficking, sexual assault, or aggravated robbery, bail may be denied to prevent the defendant from posing a threat to public safety.
  2. State and Local Laws:
    • States seek to prevent violent offenders from being released until they are determined not to be a threat to the public and do not pose a flight risk. Therefore, state and local laws may impose more restrictive conditions for granting bail in cases involving violent crimes.
  3. Judge’s Discretion:
    • A judge decides the bail amount and whether a defendant qualifies for bail. Even for crimes with set bail amounts, a judge can adjust the bail based on the defendant’s circumstances.
    • Criminal History: A history of prior convictions or failure to appear at court dates can lead a judge to deny bail.
    • Public Safety and Flight Risk: The judge assesses whether the defendant poses a danger to the community or is likely to flee before trial.

Bail Bonds Overview

A bail bond is a financial agreement enabling a defendant’s release from jail pending trial, with the condition that they attend all court appearances. Bail bonds serve as a guarantee to the court that the defendant will comply with the judicial process. Failure to appear may result in forfeiture of the bail amount and the issuance of a warrant for the defendant’s arrest.

Types of Bail Bonds

Cash Bail 

It involves paying the full bail amount in cash upfront, often chosen for lower bail amounts within the defendant’s or their family’s financial means. If the defendant attends all court dates, the cash is refunded after the trial, minus any court fees or fines.

Surety Bond

The most common bail bond involves a bail bond company. The defendant pays a non-refundable fee (usually 10% of the bail), and the bondsmen post the full amount. If the defendant fails to appear, the bondsman covers the bail and may hire a bounty hunter to find the defendant.

Personal Recognizance (PR) Bond

Also known as an “own recognizance” bond, it allows a defendant to be released without paying any money upfront. The defendant signs a written promise to appear in court and adhere to any conditions set by the judge. This bond is usually for those with strong community ties, low flight risk, and no history of missing court dates.

Property Bond 

Involves the defendant or their family using real estate as collateral to secure release. The property’s equity must equal or exceed the bail amount. If the defendant fails to appear, the court can foreclose on the property. This bond is uncommon and used for high bail amounts when the defendant has substantial property assets.

When can Bail Be Denied in Texas?

The Texas Constitution allows judges to deny bail in specific situations. Here’s a simple breakdown:

  1. Habitual Offenders: A person accused of a specific felony, or with two prior felony convictions, may be denied bail.
  2. Multiple Charges: If an individual faces a felony charge and is already on bail for another felony, the court might deny bail.
  3. Use of Deadly Weapon: If someone is accused of a felony involving a deadly weapon and has at least one prior felony, the court may deny bail.
  4. Violent or Sexual Offenses on Probation/Parole: Those accused of a violent or sexual crime while on probation or parole may be denied bail.

Additionally, bail can be denied if:

  • The accused has been charged with a felony or a family violence offense; consequently, their bail has been revoked or forfeited.
  • The accused violates an order for Emergency protection (MOEP).

The Texas legislature has established procedures to enforce these constitutional powers (Articles 17.153 and 17.152 for specific offenses).

Bail Conditions in Texas

In Texas, judges can set conditions for bail to ensure the safety of victims and the community. Here are some key bail conditions that the court can impose:

  1. Home Curfew and Electronic Monitoring: Defendants might have to stay home during specific hours and wear an electronic monitoring device (Article 17.43).
  2. Home Confinement with Electronic Monitoring: Defendants could be confined to their homes with electronic monitoring (Article 17.44).
  3. Drug Testing: The court might mandate regular drug testing (Article 17.44).
  4. Vehicle Interlock: For intoxication offenses, the court might require an alcohol-detection device that prevents vehicle operation if the driver has consumed alcohol (Article 17.441).
  5. AIDS and HIV Classes: Defendants might have to attend these classes (Article 17.45).
  6. DNA Specimen: The court may require a DNA sample (Article 17.47).
  7. GPS Monitoring: For family violence offenses, defendants may need to wear a GPS monitor (Article 17.49).

Judges can impose any reasonable condition to ensure safety. Common additional conditions include:

  • Prohibiting alcohol and drug use
  • Banning firearm possession
  • Restricting travel outside the county

Understanding the bail hearing process in Texas is essential if you or a loved one faces arrest. Knowing how bail works, the factors influencing a judge’s decision, and the types of bail bonds helps navigate this challenging situation. Familiarize yourself with bail conditions and circumstances where bail can be denied to better advocate for your release.