Does Pretrial Release Really Matter?

Why Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer?In a handful of cases, pretrial release is probably irrelevant. Defendants who are charged with Class C misdemeanors and have no work, family, or other commitments will probably plead guilty and receive a brief jail sentence. In many cases, the time served may cover most or all of that sentence.

But most defendants face much more serious charges, like DWI, drug possession, or assault. At a minimum, these charges mean up to six months in jail. Even if the prosecutor cuts the maximum sentence in half, that’s a long time to sit out a sentence, especially if the defendant has any connection whatsoever to the free world. Furthermore, many Class A and B misdemeanors are easier to defend than Class C misdemeanors. If the defendant is in jail, it’s much more difficult to defend these cases.

So, it’s usually very important for defendants to exert their Eighth Amendment right to reasonable bail in a Tarrant County criminal case.

Initial Determinations

Like most other large counties in Texas, Tarrant County has a limited pretrial release system. A review board examines the case. If the defendant has no criminal record and is charged with a nonviolent offense, the board often recommends OR (Own Recognizance) release. If that’s the case, the defendant goes free before trial if the defendant pays a small fee and complies with conditions, like reporting to the pretrial services office.

The narrow qualifications exclude pretty much all Tarrant County Jail inmates. Furthermore, the wheels of justice often turn slowly at pretrial services. So, even if the defendant qualifies, it may be several days before the board approves OR release.

Therefore, most defendants either post cash bond or partner with a bail bondsman. The defendant (or more commonly the defendant’s representative) may post the entire bail amount in cash. The county refunds most of this money after the case is resolved. A bail bondsman usually charges about a 10 or 15 percent premium to write a surety bond. This money is nonrefundable, but it is a lot cheaper than posting cash bond.

Subsequent Reconsideration

Generally, the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office sets the initial bond amount based on the severity of the offense and the defendant’s criminal record. If the defendant cannot afford bail, an attorney can demand a bond reduction hearing. At this hearing, the judge considers a number of other factors in addition to criminal history and offense severity, including:

  • Amount of bail the defendant can afford,

  • Defendant’s threat to the community,

  • Amount of evidence against the defendant, and

  • Defendant’s ties to the community, or lack thereof.

Typically, the prosecutor and defense attorney come to an out-of-court settlement. For example, if the defendant is charged with DWI and the bail amount is very high, the prosecutor may agree to lower the amount if the defendant obtains an Ignition Interlock Device.

Pretrial release is an important component of an overall criminal defense. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Fort Worth, contact Herreth Law. We routinely handle matters in Tarrant County and nearby jurisdictions.