"Jumping bail" describes a situation where a person posts bail, is released on bail, and then subsequently fails to appear in court for the purpose of avoiding prosecution or sentencing. Jumping bail, or “skipping bail,” may result in the person’s bail bond being forfeited and a warrant issued for their arrest.
In some instances, a defendant can be found to have jumped bail, even without missing their court appearance. This typically requires the prosecution to show the person has taken steps towards purposely avoiding the court hearing.
Is Skipping Bail a Crime?
Skipping bail is illegal, and is even classified as a felony in some states. Bail jumping is considered a separate crime from any offenses that were the original focus of the court hearing. For example, if a person is required to attend a court hearing for felony carjacking charges, jumping bail will result in another charge in addition to the carjacking charges.
Under most states, the elements required to prove bail jumping are:
- The defendant was eligible for bail according to a court order issued by a judge
- The defendant then failed to appear before the judge in the proper jurisdiction as required
- The defendant acted willfully and knowingly
Jumping bail for a felony offense may result in federal felony charges, with the defendant being required to pay a large monetary fee and/or serve additional prison time.
Are There Any Defenses to Bail Jumping?
A defendant must act knowingly and willfully in order to be found guilty of skipping bail. Therefore, it is a defense if the defendant’s failure to appear in court was unavoidable or unintentional, and due to circumstances beyond their control.
For example, if the defendant missed a hearing because they were injured or incapacitated, they might be excused from bail jumping charges. The defendant generally bears the burden of proving the defense of unintentional failure to attend a court hearing.
What Is a Bounty Hunter?
A bounty hunter is a person who is hired to find and apprehend a defendant who has skipped bail. If a defendant has posted bail through a bail bondsman, it is usually the bondsman who will contact a bounty hunter to try and locate the defendant.
If the bounty hunter is unable to locate the defendant, the result is that the bondsman will have to pay the bail amount to the court. Therefore, bounty hunters typically pursue a defendant aggressively if they have jumped bail.
The amount of time that a bounty hunter has to find the defendant before bail is due will depend on the state. Some states allow up to a year for the bounty hunter to track down the defendant, while others allow only three days.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
Jumping bail is a serious crime that can sometimes result in felony charges. If you are facing bail jumping charges, you may wish to contact a criminal defense lawyer immediately. Your attorney can help defend you in court, especially if your absence was unintentional or due to circumstances beyond your control.