Table of Contents
- Bail Bond Rights Based on the US and Texas Constitution
- Austin Bail Bonds Board
- Why the Austin Bail Bonds System Is Broken in Austin TX
- Austin Bail Bonds Is Dirty Business
- Don’t Fall For These Austin Bail Bondsman Tricks
- Are Austin Bail Bondsman Ethical?
- Flawed Arguments In Favor of Austin Bail Bonds
Bail Bond Rights Based on the US and Texas Constitution
When we think of our constitutional rights in the United States and in Texas, in terms of being arrested, a few different ones probably quickly come to mind. The right to remain silent. The right to an attorney. Maybe there are a few that aren’t so obvious. The right to a fair and speedy trial. The right to a trial by jury. There is another aspect of our rights when it comes to the matter of Austin bail bonds that we should all be aware of, especially now that the courts are waking up to the fact that excessive bail bonds are depriving people of their freedom before they have even stepped inside of a courtroom.
The United States Constitution guarantees certain rights to its citizens who are accused of crimes. The Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution states that, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” But, unfortunately, some judges are setting bail bond amounts that are so high, no reasonable person could afford to post a cash bond or even pay the percentage of a surety bond to get released. If a bail bond amount is set at $50,000 and a bail bonding company charges 10% of that to an arrestee, that is $5,000. That is a lot of money for an average person, but when you take a person who is indigent, who has a higher chance of getting arrested in the first place, paying that amount is impossible.
Those who are arrested in Texas, and have to pay an Austin bail bond to get released, also have the same rights when it comes to excessive bail or fines under Section 13 of the Texas Constitution. It reiterates our US Constitution by stating, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel or unusual punishment inflicted.” Why are people being punished by being kept in jail before it has been decided whether they are guilty or innocent? And with the recent bail bond reforms happening across Texas, how come these rights have gone ignored for so long?
On the other side of this coin, there are some instances where an arrestee can flat out be denied an Austin bail bond. According to Section 11a of the Texas Constitution, being convicted of or indicted for multiple felonies could result in the denial of bail. Section 11b deals with the possible denial of bond if a condition of release is violated. Specifically stating, “an offense involving family violence, who is released on bail pending trial, and whose bail is subsequently revoked or forfeited for a violation of a condition of release may be denied bail pending trial if a judge or magistrate in this state determines by a preponderance of the evidence at a subsequent hearing that the person violated a condition of release related to the safety of a victim of the alleged offense or to the safety of the community.” Section 11c can deny a bail bond of those accused of violating an emergency protective order in family violence cases.
Being accused of a violent crime is serious. This is exactly the time when a bail bond is important and necessary. Like the people who are accused of allegedly committing a violent crime, the victims of these offenses have certain rights as well according to the Texas Constitution. According to Section 30, victims of crimes are “reasonably protected from the accused throughout the criminal justice process.” Other rights included are, “the right to notification of court proceedings; the right to be present at all public court proceedings related to the offense, unless the victim is to testify and the court determines that the victim’s testimony would be materially affected if the victim hears other testimony at the trial; the right to confer with a representative of the prosecutor’s office; the right to restitution; and the right to information about the conviction, sentence, imprisonment, and release of the accused.”
There are criteria that need to be examined when someone is arrested to determine a reasonable, sufficient bail bond amount. What is the offense that is being charged? Is it a misdemeanor or a felony? Violent or non-violent? Are they a danger to themselves or the public? What can this person reasonably pay to get released to come back to court? What is the likelihood they will come back to court in the first place? These are the factors that should be determined before a bail bond is set. The days of already set bond amounts for particular offenses are over, and the court needs to examine how they set a bail bond for each individual arrestee, case by case.
If someone is accused of committing a non-violent misdemeanor (or even felony), how is it fair that they are forced to stay in jail because they can’t afford to pay their bail bond? These people are being punished before they are even convicted of committing a crime. All too often they plead to something they didn’t do just to get out of jail to get back to some semblance of normal. By that time, so much has been affected by this unconstitutional incarceration. They can lose their jobs, homes, or children. Something like this can unravel their lives in such a way that they can never get back on track.
According to the Texas Constitution, Section 19, “No citizen of this State shall be deprived of life, liberty, property, privileges or immunities, or in any manner disfranchised, except by the due course of the law of the land.” Due course of law means that someone is innocent unless proven guilty. It means no excessive Austin bail bonds. It means that your life doesn’t have to upend solely because you have been accused of doing something wrong and you can’t afford to pay your bail bond to get out of jail. It is important to know your constitutional rights when faced with the situation of being arrested. If you and your lawyer don’t stand up for you when it comes to these rights, who will?
Austin Bail Bond Board
Under the Texas Occupations Code, Austin must have a Bail Bond Board because it has a population of over 110,000 people. According to the US Census, Travis County has a population of over 1.3 million people. Austin is at the heart of Travis County and is where Central Booking and the Travis County Jail is located. See Title 10 Occupations Related To Law Enforcement And Security, Chapter 1704 Regulation Of Bail Bond Sureties, Subchapter B County Bail Bond Boards, Section 1704.051 Mandatory Creation Of Board.
The Bail Bond Board is in charge of regulating the Austin Bail Bondsman and approving licenses. Meetings are open to the public per the Open Records Act.
The Texas Occupations Rules establishes the rules that govern who comprise the Bail Bond Board. Under Section 1704.053, the Bail Bond Board must include the following members. See here for a full list of the members www.traviscountytx.gov/bail-bond-board/board-members.
The Bail Bond Board must include the Travis County Sheriff’s Office or a designated member from the Travis County Sheriff’s Office who is her administrator or a deputy sheriff that is at least a sergeant. Sheriff Sally Hernandez is the board member for Austin.
Sheriff Sally Hernandez, Travis County Sheriff’s Office
The Bail Bond Board must include a Travis County criminal district court judge. Judge David Wahlberg of the 167th District Court is the board member for Austin.
Judge David Wahlberg, 167th District Court
The Bail Bond Board must include a Travis County county court judge who is designated by the commissioner’s court. Judge Sarah Eckhardt of the Travis County Commissioners Court is the board member for Austin.
Judge Sarah Eckhardt, Travis County Commissioners Court
The Bail Bond Board must include a Travis County criminal county court judge. Judge Carlos Barrera of the Travis County Court #8 is the board member for Austin.
Judge Carlos Barrera, Travis County Court #8
The Bail Bond Board must include the DA or an assistant DA designated by the DA. Assistant DA Dayna Blazey is the board member for Austin. She was designated by Travis County DA Margaret Moore.
Dayna Blazey, Travis County DA’s Office
The Bail Bond Board must include a licensed bail bond surety or agent for a corporate surety. Jennifer Moreno-Williams of Bail Bonds Express is the board member for Austin.
The Bail Bond Board must include the district clerk. Velva Price is the Travis County District Clerk and is the board member for Austin.
Velva Price, Travis County District Clerk
The Bail Bond Board must include the district clerk or someone designated by the district clerk. Adana Hess is the board member for Austin. She was designated by Travis County District Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir.
The Bail Bond Board can include a presiding judge of a municipal court in Travis County. Judge Sherry Statman of the City of Austin Municipal Court is the board member for Austin.
Judge Sherry Statman, City of Austin Municipal Court
The Bail Bond Board must include the Travis County Treasurer or someone designated by the Travis County Treasurer. Dolores Ortega–Carter is the board member for Austin.
Dolores Ortega–Carter, Travis County Treasurer
The Bail Bond Board must include a Travis County criminal defense attorney. Ben Blackburn is the board member for Austin.
Why the Austin Bail Bonds System Is Broken?
Most of the time, a lawyer wins out. But there are certain scenarios when getting an Austin Bail Bondsman is the only way.
For first-degree capital offenses, like Murder or Rape, a judge won’t likely sign a personal bond. The reason is the judge is an elected official and is elected by the citizens. They don’t want to let people out of jail who commit further violence against the alleged victim. If something does happen, the judge’s name is going to be on the Personal Bond document reported in the news. This is not a good look for them. The news will try to blame it on the judge letting the person out. But in reality, if a person can get out even with a Bail Bond, they can commit the same acts of violence if they chose. But this is not what judges think about. Because they would not get thrown under the bus.
The reality is that this can happen for any person the judge releases from jail, even for a misdemeanor Assault Family Violence or a DWI with no victim. There are multiple ways a person can leave the country and flee. This is what judges are concerned about. Getting out with an Austin Bail Bondsman will force them to have skin in the game. But this is an illogical argument. A person can get out of jail with a bail bondsman, and even if they return to court, they will not get the money back. So to the person in jail, that is not a valid motivation.
Worst case scenario, for a flight risk, some people can afford to pay even a cash bail bond and escape the country. What is the difference? Their wealth allowed them to pay their way out of jail. So the arguments supporting denying people’s personal bonds do not relate to them as a flight risk and the safety of the victim. It only has to do with preventing bad publicity if something bad happens.
If people were a real flight risk, add house arrest to their bail bond conditions. Or deny them any bond. This happens a lot. This is rare if someone has an attorney because we can advocate in front of a judge. Or we can advocate for release on Personal Bond with added conditions. If we think about it, this is better than getting out with an Austin Bail Bondsman or with a Cash Bail Bond.
These considerations are not great enough to overcome the fear of bad publicity, however. The only solution if judges weren’t elected and were hired, so they could be more unbiased for these tough cases. Every life matters and especially for these serious charges. Denying someone’s personal bond in favor of them getting an Austin Bail Bondsman is not a solution.
Austin Bail Bonds Is Dirty Business
Austin Bail Bondsman argues that there is no better way to prevent a defendant from fleeing than putting a third party on the hook financially. But with the number of people that don’t come back to court so low, is it worth it?
Most people get rearrested eventually. They drive to work, they get pulled over, and the officer runs their driver’s license. They’re screwed. They have an active warrant. They will now go back to jail. This is an imperfect system but the defendants still answer to the charges against them. So in most cases, the justification behind Austin bail bondsman is not valid.
There are only two countries in the world where an arrestee can contract with a bail bonding company. Those countries are the Philippines, and of course, the United States. For a practice that is so widely recognized in our country, and even required in most counties of Texas, why has it been outlawed by the rest of the world? In some countries, like Canada, if someone profits off of a bail bond, they are facing a jail sentence of up to two years.
The business of Austin bail bonds, as well as the bail bonding companies around the country, are corrupt. When making money is involved in bail bonds, the possibility of abusing the power haunts our criminal justice system. In Louisiana, a well-known bondsman went to prison for bribing judges with money, women, and alcohol. In other parts of the United States, bail bondsman have allegedly forced women into sex who otherwise can’t afford to pay their bail bond or that of a loved one.
With all of the dirty practices of bail bonding companies, one would think that having this third party in place would motivate people to come to court. In Dallas, a very pro-bail county in Texas, a staggering 26% fail to show up. According to a 2007 study, 18% of defendants released on commercial bail nationwide don’t show back up to court.
Being arrested and eventually going to trial can mean taking a huge gamble with someone’s freedom. While people wait for their day in court, they shouldn’t have to worry about an Austin bail bondsman throwing them in jail for not complying by missing a payment or some other rule they deem an arrestee should follow (beyond getting rearrested or missing a court date). These dirty, unregulated businesses have the ability to restrict the freedom of an individual before they even step inside of a courtroom, and there isn’t proof that these companies are even helping people get there in the first place. Maybe one day the United States will catch up with the rest of the world and ban these businesses for good.
Don’t Fall For These Austin Bail Bondsman Tricks
Getting arrested is a stressful and confusing time. Whether it is you dealing with an arrest, or someone you love, usually all parties involved are in the dark. Getting released is a top priority, and unfortunately, there are Austin bail bondsmen who will prey on people in these vulnerable circumstances. If you know the tricks to look out for, you can avoid being duped into an already difficult situation becoming even worse.
Be careful if an Austin bail bondsman doesn’t charge you enough. The saying ‘too good to be true’ is fitting in this instance. The going rate for a surety bond is at least 10% of your bail bond amount. Some bail bonding companies might give you a rate of 5%, which sounds great at first, but it can come with a catch. This could very well be a mere downpayment, the rest to be charged with interest, none of which you are aware of before you sign into a contract. And while it may be legal to do this, it is a very shady practice. If an Austin bail bondsman wants to charge you a downpayment, this should be discussed beforehand, and you shouldn’t owe any extra interest.
Another trick to look out for is being solicited by a bail bonding company. Let’s say you are in jail and an Austin bail bondsman tells you that he will discount your bail bond fee if you tell other people in jail to go through his or her company. This is a huge red flag. Unlike many bail bonding company practices that go unregulated, solicitation is monitored. Austin bail bonding companies are not allowed by law to solicit people outside of the jail either. An example would be if a bail bonding company found the loved ones of people who have been arrested and called them, offering their services. An Austin bail bondsman can only call you at the behest of a loved one who has been arrested. Other than that, it is up to the arrestee or a family member to contact the bail bonding company first.
If your last option to get released from jail is going through an Austin bail bonding company, it is best to shop around first. Read reviews, get multiple quotes, and go into it with your eyes open. Be on the lookout for the tricks that surety bond companies can pull to drum up business, and don’t let yourself be a victim in the questionable games they play.
Are Austin Bail Bondsman Ethical?
Imagine yourself or a loved one has just been arrested in Austin and a bail bond amount has been set for release. This is the first time this has happened and everyone is in the dark about what to do next. Popular culture has portrayed the bail bondsman as the only way to get out of jail. But in Austin, some people are able to get released for free on a personal bond. If you don’t know this, and you call a bail bondsman to help you, is he or she ethically required to tell you about getting out for free?
The short answer is no. Bail bondsman in Austin run businesses. And the goal of a business is to make money. The bail bonding business is a multi-billion dollar industry that unfortunately preys upon low income, vulnerable people. In some cases where the bail bond amount is so high, people have to use their homes as collateral because they can’t afford the 10 to 20% of the bond or surety amount a bail bondsman will charge. This puts the bail bondsman in a position to seize this collateral if need be, which could ultimately result in someone losing his or her home.
Bail bondsman have and will use forceful measures if a client doesn’t show up to court. This is not a field that has regulations in place. In fact, with minimal training, anyone can be a bail bondsman. There is also no proof of a decrease in bail jumping or an increase in public safety when a bail bondsman is involved in posting a bond for a client. The even seedier bail bonding businesses in Austin can also refuse to help people who have lower bail bond amounts, seeing them as unworthy clients. Do you think at this point they would tell people they could get out for free? Probably not.
While bail bondsman are not required to tell people they can get out for free, when it comes to ethics, they should. If they did this or had higher standards, maybe Google would allow them to post ads for their services again. Or maybe Austin doesn’t even need bail bonding businesses at all. With bail reform acts being put in place and Pretrial Services making it possible for more people to receive personal bonds, bail bondsman could become something of the past, putting their unethical practices behind us.
Flawed Arguments In Favor of Austin Bail Bonds
The American Bail Coalition is a powerful group that lobbies Congress and States against bail reform and to keep the status quo. Bail bondsman make a living from this industry and the surety businesses love them too for their high-profit margin and low loss rate. There are several flawed arguments these organizations make to try to prevent Pretrial Services from being more prevalent.
People shouldn’t get out of jail for free for a heinous crime
People aren’t released for murder or for rape just willy nilly. First degree felonies and second-degree felonies are not treated as a low-level misdemeanor like DWI or Possession of Marijuana. Even if a lawyer approaches a judge to advocate for an arrestee’s release for something violent or serious, it will most likely be denied. If it is approved, the conditions of getting out would be a GPS ankle monitor or arrest. This is done to protect the alleged victim. Most of the arguments the bail bonds industry makes are logically flawed. They are using the worst crimes to justify denying release for every offense, including a first time DWI.
There should never be a presumption that a defendant is entitled to release solely because they are poor
There can be a presumption that everyone gets out of jail for free for a low-level offense. Just because they get out of jail for free with a Personal Bond doesn’t mean they are off the hook. If they don’t show up for court, they forfeit their personal bond and a judge will sign a warrant for their arrest and double their bail bond amount.
Next time they get caught, they won’t have such an easy time getting out of jail. This is when bail bonds or a lawyer are the two options to get out. The bail bonds route becomes twice as hard. The whole premise behind a bail bondsman is that they want to ensure people will go back to court. But if someone proved they did not show up to court, then the bail bondsman has less of an assurance that they will go to court. For these situations, the bail bond business requires two cosigners when they normally require one cosigner for an initial jail release. This punishes people even more, which is an incentive to showing up to court with a Personal Bond. Or if they can’t afford a bail bond, a lawyer can help get them out.
People won’t go back to court if they don’t have skin in the game
To be honest, this is the best argument Austin bail bonds have. With a bail bondsman, they have a family member who cosigned for them, so they have an accountability partner who will make sure they go to court. This is actually a good argument in the old days. But now, with technology and automated email and text reminders when their court date is, people are reminded to go to court. And if they don’t go, that’s on them. If they don’t go to court, now is when they will need to hire a bail bond business or a lawyer.