If you're out on bail and don't show up in court as ordered, you risk more than just forfeiting your bail money or collateral. The consequences of jumping or skipping bail can snowball. This article will review the various penalties for bail jumping from arrest and jail time to new criminal charges.
States define the crime and penalties for bail jumping differently. It might even be called a different name, such as criminal failure to appear (FTA), release violation, or crime of nonappearance. Some states allow grace periods, while others don't offer such leniency.
Some states define bail jumping as a defendant failing to show up in court and then failing to surrender within a set time period. In these states, a defendant might have 48 hours, 30 days, or some other time period in which to surrender before criminal charges can be filed. Other states make failure to appear without good cause a crime and don't allow a grace period. Certain states make bail jumping an offense only where the defendant faces felony charges for the pending case, while others provide that any kind of charge will suffice.
In most states, the prosecution must prove that the defendant intentionally, willfully, or knowingly failed to show up to court. It will usually suffice to show that the defendant knew about the court appearance and simply didn't appear—accident or no accident. If you didn't receive notice of the hearing, you might have a defense, but courts keep records of these notices. Depending on the jurisdiction, that notice can take various forms, including a letter mailed to the defendant and even the wording of the bail bond. Trying to convince the court the notice was lost in the mail won't typically work.
Many states tie the criminal penalties for bail jumping to the underlying charges. For instance, the law might impose a misdemeanor penalty when the underlying charges are misdemeanors and a felony penalty for underlying felony charges. Or a state might even set different degrees of bail jumping within the misdemeanor and felony categories. And some states use straight penalties, meaning all bail jumping offenses carry the same penalty.
On top of additional criminal charges, the judge may:
Having a record of failure to appear also looks very bad should you face criminal charges in the future.
Whether a defendant's excuse for not showing up to court (and potentially failing to surrender thereafter) constitutes a defense depends on the facts and the jurisdiction. It's often a valid defense that the defendant couldn't have avoided the failure to appear due to circumstances beyond his or her control. A court might consider a car accident or hospitalization as beyond someone's control. But courts have rejected excuses due to intoxication and drug use, and have been skeptical of poorly substantiated claims of illness. In some states, even the fact of being incarcerated in another jurisdiction isn't an excuse for failing to be in court when required. And if your car breaks down, you need to find a ride.
If you've been charged with bail jumping or missed your court date and don't know what to do, talk to a local criminal defense attorney. A knowledgeable lawyer will be able to advise you as to the applicable law, the local practices, and your best course of action, including whether surrendering to the court or the authorities may prevent a bail jumping charge.