Texas Man Skips Bail during His Criminal Trial
A criminal trial in Liberty, Texas – about 40 miles northeast of Houston – made national news on August 30 when a 20-year-old man who had been free on bail left and did not return to court during a break in the proceedings (NBC News.com). After the man jumped bail, the judge issued an arrest warrant and then allowed testimony to resume in the case. Without the man present, jurors found him guilty of aggravated sexual assault of a child and sentenced him to 99 years in prison.
This case raises two criminal defense matters to discuss: (1) continuing a criminal trial without the defendant present, and (2) penalties for jumping bail in Texas.
Continuing with Criminal Proceedings When a Defendant is Absent from Trial
One of the fundamental principles of the U.S. criminal justice system is that a defendant has the right to be present in court proceedings in a criminal trial. However, if the offense at issue is not capital and the accused is not in custody (i.e. free on bail) and the trial has already begun in the defendant’s presence, the defendant waives his or her right to be present if he voluntarily leaves the trial proceedings. This means that the court does not have to nullify what has already taken place in the trial or prevent the completion of the trial. Rather, the court may proceed as it would have if the defendant were present (Diaz v. United States).
This precedent, established in 1912, allowed the Liberty court to proceed with trial even after the defendant was no longer present to hear his verdict or sentence.
Jumping Bail in Texas
If a defendant fails to appear in court for a required hearing, a judge can issue a bench warrant for the defendant’s arrest. A charge for failing to appear is separate from a defendant’s original charge, but may be classified as a felony or misdemeanor depending on the original charge. A judge is also likely to order a forfeiture of the bond, which means the defendant (or his or her bail bondsman) loses any money or collateral put up for the defendant’s release.
If the original charge was a felony, failure to appear is punishable by two to 10 years in state prison. For Class A or Class B misdemeanors, failure to appear is punishable by up to one year in county jail, and for Class C misdemeanors, failure to appear is punishable by a fine up to $500.
Seek Advice & Representation from an Experienced Texas Defense Attorney
If you or a loved one faces criminal charges, it is always a good idea to seek the advice of a seasoned criminal defense lawyer. In bail jumping or failure to appear cases, the best time to deal with the serious consequences of an impending arrest is before you get caught by law enforcement. Do not hesitate to contact McLemore, Reddell & Story, P.L.L.C. to talk about your situation during a free initial consultation.