The Beginning of the Criminal Justice System
Being arrested, or having a loved one arrested, is one of the most stressful and frightening things imaginable. There are worse calls you can get in the middle of the night, but by anyone’s standard, that call from the jail is a horrible experience. One of the worst things about it is you simply do not know how any of it works.
A good source of information for the actual mechanics of getting out of jail is a good, reputable bondsman. But to give you an overall view of the criminal justice system from start to finish, you will want to speak to an attorney specializing in criminal law. In my experience, one of the best antidotes for this stress is to tell the client and their family exactly what is happening and going to happen because it is that lack of knowing what is going to happen that scares people the most. All you see and hear is a loved one who is scared to death and you don’t know what to do. This post is meant to provide a fairly in-depth picture of what is going on behind the scenes when a person is arrested on a state case in Tarrant County, Texas.
In two posts I will cover the two events that will usually occur at the beginning of the criminal justice process in a state court: (1) the call from the jail after arrest; and (2) not being arrested (yet), but finding out there is an arrest warrant out there.
Here is the first part.
SCENARIO ONE: THE CALL FROM THE JAIL
There are two basic ways to get arrested: With or Without a Warrant.
Without a Warrant:
Most common in DWI, Family Violence, drug cases. Also, offenses committed in the view of the police or where police were called shortly after or during the incident and came (e.g., shoplifting at a store, a family violence case where the police were called and the accused is present when they arrive)
Usually, an arrested person cannot be released until a surety bond is made. For those who are arrested without a warrant, a magistrate will set the bond. An arrested person has to be brought before a magistrate without undue delay, but waiting 12 hours or so is not uncommon. The magistrate will advise the arrested person of the charges and their rights and set the bond. Only at that point can the bond be made. We do not have all-night magistrates in Tarrant County. Thus, if someone is arrested at 10:00pm, they will probably not see a magistrate until the next morning. A person arrested without a warrant cannot be bonded out until they are both booked in and a magistrate has set a bond.
In family violence cases, the complainant has the option of getting a protective order. If that option is exercised, then the magistrate must read the order to the accused and the person cannot get out until this happens.
Intoxication offenses have a number of hours during which the intoxicated person cannot be let out of jail. This time really doesn’t matter, though, because all the jails take longer than that amount of time to book the person in.
BEST STRATEGY: if someone is arrested without a warrant, call a good bondsman. The bondsman will know where to check to get the information about the charge, bond amount, and where the person is in the book-in process. The bondsman will also be able to find out if a protective order has been requested.
With a Warrant:
PC (probable cause) warrants: cases where the police were not immediately called, where the suspect was not present when they arrived, where there has been an investigation, etc., a detective prepares a warrant and has a judge sign it
Most of the time, the magistrate who signs the PC warrant will put a bond amount on it.
PC warrants are not in the county computer so you cannot learn that they exist except by speaking with the detective who got it or some other police officer. They are entered into the TLETS system (law enforcement database) but this is not accessible to anyone outside of law enforcement. Once the person is booked in, the bond amount will be entered in the computer and the bond can then be posted. This process (booking in) may take longer than 24 hours if arrested by Fort Worth PD or Tarrant County. If the person is arrested by one of the other cities in Tarrant County, the book-in time varies, but in all cases will be several hours traffic tickets.
There are two different situations where a traffic ticket becomes a warrant. One is where the defendant does not show up for court when the ticket is pending. A warrant is then issued for failure to appear. The other is where the defendant agrees to a payment plan on a disposed ticket and then doesn’t pay.
On all pending Class C misdemeanor cases (traffic tickets are Class C misdemeanors, generally punishable by up to a $500 fine) the defendant is entitled to a bond. This is true even where there has been a warrant for failure to appear. Attorneys are free to sign these bonds. A bondsman can also post a bond in the amount of the ticket pending disposition.
On the other hand, where the case was already disposed, the defendant is not entitled to a bond. There are only two ways to take care disposed tickets. One is to have someone go to the city court that issued the ticket and just pay it in full. The other is for the defendant to “lay out” the ticket, which means staying in jail and receiving some daily credit for time served at the rate of, say, $100 per day of incarceration. A bondsman can find out the nature of the ticket or tickets for which the warrants were issued.
There are two types of probation and which type the person is on is going to affect their chances of getting a bond. One type is called deferred adjudication. In deferred adjudication, the person pleads guilty (or no contest) and the judge finds there is sufficient evidence of guilt to find the person guilty, but does not enter a finding of guilt. Thus, the person is not convicted so long as they successfully complete a probationary period. Because there has been no conviction the person is entitled to a bond.
The other type of probation is usually called “straight” probation. In this type, the person is convicted and sentenced to some period of time which cannot exceed ten years. Then, that sentence is suspended and the person is placed on probation for some period of years. In this case, the person is convicted and thus has no presumption of innocence. For this reason, bond is discretionary. The court can lawfully refuse a bond.
Most of the time with a revocation warrant (regardless of whether the probation is straight or deferred) you can expect there to be a “no bond hold” which means the judge has ordered that the person be held without bond. The attorney will need to visit with the court to get a bond set. This is especially true on felonies where “no bond holds” are the rule. On misde- meanor revocations we see bonds more often.
Unlike PC warrants, revocation warrants are on the county computer immediately upon signing, so you can see them even before the person is arrested and know in advance whether a bond issetorifitisa”nobondhold.” Alotoftimes where there is a hold, you can get with the judge before the person is arrested and get a bond set if the person is current on their probation fees. It is always worth a try. If the person is already arrested, you just need to go by the judge’s chambers and try to get a bond set and go about the process of bonding them out.
Again, a bondsman can find out the information for you regarding whether a bond is set and which court it comes out of. For revocations, anyone who has access to the county computer can also find this out.
The Writ of Habeas Corpus:
A lot of people who end up in the system are familiar with the term “writ of habeas corpus.” It used to be in Tarrant County that you could almost always escape the excruciating book-in process by getting a judge to sign a writ and presenting that to the jail. Technically, that process still exists, but, if the procedures are followed to the letter, which they were a few years ago, the process was made to be so complicated that many just didn’t think it was worth it. But it seems the writ of habeas corpus is back from the brink of extinction in Tarrant County. I have had some luck with writs of habeas corpus in the last couple of years. Only a lawyer can do this for you, so if you want someone “writted out,” don’t bother calling a bondsman. A writ will only really apply in a situation where a person has no charges filed and no bond set – basically for someone arrested without a warrant. If the bond is unreasonably high, you will probably need to set the case for a bond reduction hearing. Also, there are several charges you cannot expect to get a writ on, such as sex offenses or violent offenses.
How long will it be before I get out?
Ahh, the million-dollar question. If someone is arrested by the Fort Worth Police Department without a warrant, it could take as much as 36-48 hours and they will not be released until they are booked in at the Mansfield Correctional Facility and their bond is made. It can be much faster if someone is arrested in one of the other cities in Tarrant County, as they hold them in the jail in that city and they don’t go to Mansfield, but all of these cities and towns have part-time magistrates who usually only come once a day to give people their warnings and set bonds. Remember, no one can be bonded out until a bond is set and it has to be set by a magistrate (unless a writ is done – see above). Especially with the FWPD/Mansfield combination, it can take upwards of 10 or 12 hours before the person is even booked-in. Until they are booked in, they don’t even exist as far as the jail is concerned and no bond can be made. Once they are booked in and a bond is set and posted, depending on what is going on at the jail (like a shift change, for instance) it can take an additional several hours for them to be booked out. Once again, it is generally not as bad in the other cities and towns besides Fort Worth. It’s a good idea to have a bondsman on standby to post the bond as soon as it is set. A good bondsman will even do the heavy lifting of checking the jail at intervals to see when the person is booked in.
What if I want to post a cash bond?
You can do that. The process is much simpler if the person is arrested in one of the other cities besides Fort Worth. In Fort Worth, a cash bond has to be posted at the Tarrant County Jail and it is a bit of a zoo. When you post a cash bond, you will get most of your money back at the end of the case – once the case is finally disposed one way or the other (plea, trial or dismissal). The county keeps some small percentage as an administrative fee and returns the rest to the person who made the bond.
Depending on the bondsman, they will charge from 10% to 20% of the bond amount as a non-refundable fee. There are a lot of bondsmen out there. I wouldn’t mess around with one who charges 20%. Ask them up front what they charge.
There are a good number of attorneys who write bonds as well. Personally, I don’t. I let the bondsmen do the bonds and I do the attorney work. Getting out of jail is very important, as it is a bright, cold, scary, and surprisingly loud place. But one must never lose sight of the fact that at the end of the day, getting the best result possible on the criminal case is the main goal. No bondsman can get that done for you.
In my next post we will talk about what happens (and what to do) when you find out there’s an active warrant for your arrest.