"Criminal Law 101"
If you or a loved one is charged with a crime then there's at least one criminal lawyer in Texas working on the case--the Prosecutor. Their job isn't to defend you, it's the exact opposite, they're paid to get convictions. They go into court every day with a stack of files, each file one defendant's case, and they're day in court isn't over until they make it through that stack.
As a criminal defense attorney, my job is to make sure everyone knows you're more than a file in a stack. I don't represent files or clients, I represent people, and when I go into court my job isn't getting through a stack, it's making sure people get treated fairly.
I've taken the time to put together answers to some frequently asked questions about how the criminal justice system works in Austin, Texas. Check out Who I Represent if you're looking for info about specific charges and feel free to reach out if you would like to discuss representation.
Austin Jail Release
The first thing anyone wants to do when they go to jail is get out. Although a judge has final say over whether this happens, the likelihood of it happening is largely controlled by Pretrial Services, unless you hire an attorney for a jail release.
Without a criminal defense lawyer, the process looks like this:
Your loved one provides certain information to Pretrial Services during booking
Pretrial Services reviews the information
Pretrial Services develops a recommendation about whether your loved one should receive a personal bond (personal bond is different than cash or surety bond, basically it's a promise to attend all required court dates and complete all conditions of bond)
Pretrial Services gives their recommendation to the judge.
The judge evaluates the recommendation and make a decision about personal bond and what conditions to apply.
Hiring an austin criminal defense lawyer inserts a representative for you into this process.
If Pretrial Services recommends that your loved one not receive a personal bond, a criminal lawyer can provide additional information to the judge that Pretrial Services doesn't have and didn't consider. Without additional information from an attorney, a judge is likely to accept the recommendation of Pretrial Services.
A criminal defense attorney can also help move the process along and get your loved one released faster. Like most things in the justice system, the process leading up to a judge making the final decision about a personal bond can take a long time. A lawyer can speed the process up for their client. They can keep track of the paperwork, fix mistakes, answer questions, and spot and correct issues that may cause Pretrial Services or a judge to deny personal bond.
In addition to working to get your loved one out of jail sooner, Kannon applies his fee for jail release to his fee for representation of your loved one. This means the price paid for jail release will be subtracted from the total cost of representation. Getting an attorney for jail release and representation also provides the added benefit of having a criminal defense lawyer be part of the process from a very early stage. This gives a lawyer more time to work on their client's criminal case and protect their client and their rights.
Ultimately, the decision to grant a personal bond is always up to a judge. A little under half the people locked up on criminal charges in Travis County receive a personal bond. There are certain criminal charges that prevent a judge from legally granting personal bond to someone who is charged with them. There are also certain conditions that make a judge less likely to grant a personal bond because they make judges feel unsure that an individual will show up for court if released, or that they won't pose a threat to the victim or the public.
Bond: Personal Bond, Cash Bond, Surety Bond
How do you get someone out of jail in Texas? There are three common ways to get released from jail before trial in Texas: Personal Recognizance Bond ("PR Bond"), Cash Bond, and Surety Bond.
The purpose of bond is to guarantee that you show up to court. If you don't show up to court after you've been released on bond, a warrant will be issued for your arrest and your bond will be forfeited to the court.
Ultimately, the decision about what type of bond to grant is up to a judge. Certain criminal charges prevent a judge from offering personal bond, while other criminal charges make judges uncomfortable granting bond at all.
When judges are making decisions about bond they're considering the nature of the criminal charges, prior criminal history, whether release would create a danger to the community or victim, and the likelihood that you will show up to court if released.
This is the cheapest way to get out of jail. Aside from minor administrative fees (usually less than $100), a personal bond consists of a promise to attend all required court dates and meet any conditions set on bond, such as wearing a GPS monitor, attending substance-abuse counseling, etc. If you fail to show up to court or meet other conditions of your PR bond, a warrant may be issued for your arrest, and the likelihood you'll receive another personal bond in the same case decreases drastically.
Cash bond is what it sounds like. The judge sets bond at a certain amount and you're released when that certain amount is paid to the court.
One significant advantage that a cash bond has over a surety bond is that you get your money back from the court when your case is over, as long as you attend all required court dates. However, while getting your money back is certainly desirable, most people simply don't have the money to pay a cash bond in the first place. On the other hand, if you pay a cash bond but don't show up for court you forfeit your money and will likely have to pay a new bond if you want to be released again. Thus, any advantage of a cash bond is squandered by a failure to show up for court.
In Travis County, sometimes there's the possibility to pay what's called a cash deposit bond. This allows you to pay a predetermined percentage of the bond amount to get released. For example, if bond is $5,000 and a judge grants a 10 percent cash deposit bond, you only pay $500 to be released.
Surety bond is when you hire a bail bondsman to pay to get you out of jail. Typically, a bail bondsman will require you pay them a percentage of your bond (similar to cash deposit bond), usually around 10 to 15 percent. Unlike a cash bond, however, you don't get this money back when the case is over. Bail bondsmen keep the money you pay them as compensation for them agreeing to cover the full amount of your bond.
A significant advantage a surety bond has over cash bonds is that you and your family pay a much smaller amount to secure your release. Although you don't get this money back, you and your family may face much less hardship by paying the 10 to 15 percent of bond to a bail bondsman instead of paying the entire amount of bond to the court, even if you can afford the entire amount and even if you don't get the 10 to 15 percent back.
If you're released on a surety bond and you fail to appear for court, the bail bondsman loses the full amount of your bond to the court. To avoid giving money away to the courts, many bail bondsmen impose their own conditions on your release, such as requiring weekly check-ins with people they've bailed out of jail.
Warrants: Walk Throughs
If you have a warrant in Travis County you can clear the warrant by doing a "walk through." A walk through occurs when you hire a criminal defense attorney in Austin to coordinate with pretrial services and the magistrate to secure a pre-approved bond. When your bond is secured you and your lawyer arrange for you surrender yourself.
After turning yourself in you will go through booking--technically you're being arrested, but because your bond was pre-approved and your criminal defense attorney came you, you'll only have to do the intake rather than spending time in jail. The entire process can take several hours, but in the end your warrant is cleared and you're out on bond.
**These penalties are increased if you're a repeat and habitual offender
Expungements and Non-Disclosures
If you were ever charged with a crime in Texas, you may be able to have your record sealed or the information removed. This is helpful because it prevents the arrest, charge, and / or conviction from being visible to certain people, like employers, in the future.
To have the information completely removed from your record is to have your record expunged. To have your record sealed so that only government agencies and law enforcement can see it is to secure a non-disclosure order.
Expunctions are possible for records of arrest and records of criminal charges under the following circumstances:
An arrest for a crime that was never charged, as long as the appropriate waiting period has passed
Most criminal charges that were dismissed or received not guilty verdict at trial
Certain misdemeanor juvenile offenses
Class C misdemeanors that were dismissed after successful completion of deferred adjudication
Any conviction that has been pardoned
Believe it or not, your arrest and criminal charge will still show up on a public record search even if your charges were dismissed. This is why expunctions are so valuable. Arrest records and prior criminal charges could be just the type of information that future employers may find significant.
People who don't quality for a full expunction may still be able to obtain a non-disclosure order. An order of non-disclosure is available after successfully completing deferred adjudication for a Class B misdemeanor or higher.
After an order of non-disclosure is granted, only law enforcement agencies, jails, courts and other public information agencies will be able to view the arrest, charge, or conviction. The order of non-disclosure will prevent these agencies from releasing arrest information to private third parties. However, law enforcement agencies may share such information with one another and with certain other agencies, such as school districts, and the information may also be shared during future criminal prosecutions.