Failure to appear (FTA) is a term used for defendants who are released on bail and fail to appear at their scheduled court hearing. Statistics on the frequency of FTA vary, depending on the source, and the accuracy of those statistics is also a source of debate. But FTA is not just a legal issue, as bail skipping has financial and economic ramifications as well.
Bail bondsman and FTA
In cases where a defendant is granted bail, a bail bond agency may get involved if the defendant cannot come up with the money. The agency charges the defendant a fee, which is a percentage of the total amount of the bail. The bondman then presents the court with a surety bond, which protects the recipient against losses if the contract cannot be fulfilled. If the defendant jumps bail, the bail bond agency is allowed six months to return the defendant back to the court, or reimburse the court for the full amount of the bail. The surety bond is often backed by insurance companies.
Frequency of FTA
Defendants fail to attend their hearing in about five to ten percent of cases — comprising roughly 10,000 incidents per year — although New Jersey reports that 20 percent of defendants ditched their court date. This discrepancy in statistics illustrates the complexity of this issue. The New Jersey statistic has been challenged based on the fact that New Jersey criminal courts are slow in disposing their heavy case load. Additionally, there has been an uptick in the prosecution of drug cases as a result of new drug legislation. The courts have had to deal with a growing influx of addicts, who are by nature erratic in their behavior. Another factor is that in New Jersey, the determination of whether a case will go to trial or not is a very long process, and studies reveal that FTA increases with lengthier disposition times.
Who is Granted Bail?
Though five out of six defendants are offered bail, it is estimated that 50,000 inmates remain in U.S. jails due to their inability to pay bail, even though they have yet to be tried. Most of the defendants who were granted bail were accused of fraud. Charges of rape, motor vehicle theft, robbery, or burglary were less likely to be offered release.
Who is jumping Bail?
Demographically, Hispanics or blacks with past arrests were the highest risk of FTA. For all ethnics groups, 61% of those who were released on bail had a prior arrest. Of that 61%, 27% had jumped bail in the past, 30% were previously convicted of a felony, and one in four defendants were released on bail, even though they had other criminal cases pending.
An Economic Issue
FTA is an economic problem for the nation’s local governments; some estimates suggest that FTA costs local governments $10 million per year. In the past five years, the amount due to local governments for FTA has increased as a result of changes in the business model of bail bond companies. These companies have started providing bonds to higher-risk defendants, including defendants with prior histories of FTA. This increase in FTA has caused some insurance companies to go bankrupt.
Examples of affected local governments include Los Angeles, which is due $25 million, and New Jersey, which is owed $39 million. Local governments have also been forced to allocate resources towards locating these defendants, as bond companies have shrugged this responsibility.
Justin Hartford is a freelance writer who specializes in legal topics such as personal injury law, criminal defense, affordable bail bonds, criminal sentencing, history of prison facilities, legal history and other areas.