Being released on bail following an arraignment on a criminal charge may prove pivotal to the outcome of an individual defendant’s case. Our Massachusetts criminal attorney knows that it is imperative, once someone has posted bail on his behalf, that the defendant attend all scheduled court appearances. Should a defendant fail to appear at a scheduled court appearance, the Court can increase his bail (or if he was released on personal recognizance, require bail), order more stringent and onerous pre-trial release conditions, revoke his bail (or his pre-trial release), or ask the District Attorney’s Office to prosecute the him for bail jumping.
Being charged with jumping bail is no small matter. Should the defendant be convicted of bail jumping, any period of incarceration imposed must be served following the completion of any sentence imposed for a conviction for the crime originally requiring the defendant to appear in court. Moreover, an acquittal on the original criminal charge does not negate the charge of bail jumping.
Elements of the Crime
In order to prove a defendant guilty of bail jumping, G.L. c. 276, §82A, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:
- The defendant was released on either bail or personal recognizance;
- The defendant was aware of the date and time he was required to appear in a particular court; and,
- The defendant failed to make the required court appearance.
To convict a defendant charged with bail jumping, the Commonwealth need only prove that the court provided him with adequate notice of a scheduled court appearance and that he failed to respond when his case was called by the clerk.
Sufficient Excuse for Absence
While the elements of the crime are relatively straight forward, a defendant who can demonstrate that he had a “sufficient excuse” for failing to appear at court may be able to avoid being charged criminally with bail jumping, or persuade a jury to acquit him of the charge. To constitute an adequate excuse, the circumstances which prevented the defendant from attending court must not have been caused by him and been beyond his ability to control. A Massachusetts criminal attorney knows that serious illnesses and accidents, as long as properly documented, are usually regarded as acceptable excuses.
If convicted of bail jumping on a misdemeanor charge, you face a fine of up to $10,000 or 1 year in the house of correction, or both. If convicted of bail jumping on a felony charge, you face a fine of up to $50,000 or up to 5 years in prison, or both.
What to Do if You’re Unable to Attend Court
If you will be unable to attend a court appearance (or if you are going to be late), call your criminal defense lawyer prior to the scheduled hearing/trial. He is in the best position both to advise you and protect you from being defaulted or charged with a crime – as long as your excuse is sufficient. If you are unable to reach your lawyer, telephone the court. If, for reasons beyond your control, you are unable to call your lawyer or the court, document both your efforts to contact your lawyer and the court, as well as the circumstances preventing your appearance.