Bail Fugitive Fates

What happens to a bail fugitive, a defendant who fails to appear for a scheduled court hearing?

The presiding judge may issue a bench warrant immediately for the defendant’s arrest or, if an attorney for the defendant argues a request for additional time in which to appear, grant a small amount of extra time after which, if the defendant still has not appeared, the bench warrant issues authorizing and ordering law enforcement officers to arrest and bring the wayward defendant back before the court.

Bench Warrant

A bench warrant does not expire until its execution by the defendant rearrests or until the defendant, usually through an attorney, returns voluntarily, explains reasons to excuse the failure to appear as scheduled, and asks the court to quash or vacate the bench warrant. In any case, the prosecutor may charge the defendant with bail jumping or failure to appear in addition to the charge(s) already pending.

Defendants sought on bench warrants may be arrested at any time. If free on bail bonds, their bail bondsmen may pursue them and take them into custody for the courts. Bail fugitives may lose all financial collateral they used to secure their bail bonds. Family or friends who use their assets as collateral to secure bail bonds may lose whatever they pledge as well.

Defendants who become bail fugitives should retain attorneys to help them turn themselves in. All courts favor defendants who turn themselves in over those who must be arrested to be seen again.

Bail Bondsmen and Fugitive Recovery Agents

A bail bondsman posts a bail bond to secure a defendant’s pretrial release, the defendant jumps bail and fails to appear as required, and the bondsman then either forfeits to the court the full amount of the bond or locates, apprehends, and brings the defendant in for disposition of the case. Such situations call for bounty hunters or “fugitive recovery agents.” Such hunters or agents almost always work for bail bondsmen.

Bail bondsmen post bonds for defendants charged with crimes pending disposition of their cases. The bail bondsman acts as a guarantor that the defendant will show up for trial. For this surety service, the bail bondsman typically charges a fee of about 10 percent of the bond the court sets according to the perceived risk of flight.

The bail bondsman represents an insurer, which underwrites the bond. When a defendant fails to show up, the bondsman after a certain time period under state law must forfeit the full amount of the bail bond to the court. Large forfeitures can put bail bondsmen out of business. The bail bondsman who fails to bring in the defendant also loses standing with the insurance underwriter. As the time to return the absconding defendant runs out, the bondsman is likely to call on a fugitive recovery agent to bring the defendant back.

Agents may track and subdue bail fugitives anywhere in the United States. When bailed out of pretrial detention, they agree to a bail bondsman’s right to re-arrest them. Bail bondsmen and their agents operate under authority expressly recognized by the Supreme Court of the United States: “When bail is given, the principal is regarded as delivered to the custody of his sureties. Their dominion is a continuance of the original imprisonment. Whenever they choose to do so, they may seize him and deliver him up in their discharge; and if this cannot be done at once, they may imprison him until it can be done.”
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