Released on Your Own Recognizance
UPDATED: June 19, 2018
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A defendant released on his own recognizance is allowed to leave jail with the promise that he will show up later on his court date. Similar to how a person signs a document promising to appear in court for a traffic violation but is otherwise free to go, defendants charged with misdeamnor or felony offenses sign an agreement at the jail promising to appear for their later criminal court date. Some states call this agreement a personal recognizance or PR bond, others may call it something else such as an OR for "own recognizance".
Released on Your Own Recognizance
Each state and county has its own set of rules to decide who is eligible to be released on their own recognizance. Despite these differences, there are certain categories or groups of defendants that are eligible. The first is lower grade offenders. Jail officials only want to keep repeat and violent criminals in jail, so lower level, non-violent offenders tend to get priority on personal recognizance bonds.
The second category is indigent offenders. If a court or magistrate decides that a defendant cannot afford an attorney, they will appoint an attorney on his behalf. Similarly, if they find that the defendant is indigent and cannot afford bond, they will sometimes grant the defendant a personal recognizance bond so he can get out of jail.
The third category of offenders are those with serious medical conditions. For example, if a defendant has a condition that requires weekly chemotherapy treatments, then jail officials will ask the magistrate to set a PR bond so that the county is not liable for the defendant’s medical treatment while in jail.
The fourth category is defendants who have been held for a long time without a charge being formally filed. For example, in Texas, if a defendant was arrested for a felony drug case, but over ninety days went by without the prosecutor obtaining an indictment, then Texas law provides for a defendant’s release on own recognizance because of the delay.
How to Get a PR Bond
After determining a defendant's eligibility, the next step is getting the PR bond. Some jurisdictions or magistrates will automatically grant defendants personal recognizance bonds for lower level offenses and for defendants that are indigent. Other jurisdictions require a defendant to file a motion. A motion is basically a one page document that defendants send to the magistrate requesting a release on their own recognizance. Depending on the jurisdiction, it may use one of the following titles: Motion for Bond Reduction, Writ of Habeas Corpus, or Motion for Personal Recognizance Bond.
Regardless of the title, the process is the same. After the motion is submitted to the judge, the defendant must request a hearing on the motion. At the hearing, the defendant produces evidence or testimony that he cannot afford the bond, or that there is another reason (like a medical condition) explaining why he should be released on a PR bond. Evidence can include testimony regarding the defendant's lack of assets or doctor’s records. The important thing to remember is that courts do not allow defendants to continuously request PR bonds. The bond reduction hearing is usually a defendant’s only chance at getting out, so he should be prepared to make the argument for release on his own recognizance.
Advantages and Disadvantages
The obvious advantage of being released on your own recognizance is that it is significantly cheaper initially than a cash or surety bond. Some counties do not require that a defendant put any money down before being released. However, some do require defendants to participate in a pretrial release program where they report monthly to a probation officer while on bond. To participate, a defendant must make a monthly payment. The payment can range from $30 to $50 per month. Some require a larger one-time deposit. This will vary with the amount of the bond. Defendants released on their own recognizance tend to have more reporting requirements than other defendants. Before a defendant requests release on his own recognizance, he should understand all of the pretrial release requirements in his jurisdiction.
The disadvantage of a personal recognizance bond is that the defendant is personally liable for the entire amount of the bond should he fail to comply with all of the conditions. For example, if a defendant had a $1,000 PR bond and then forgot to show up for court, the court could forfeit the bond and order the defendant to pay the county the $1,000 bond. On surety bonds, the surety usually absorbs this expense. After forfeiture, a defendant is also sent back to jail and is usually not given another chance to get a personal recognizance bond.
If a defendant can’t find the forms or doesn’t know how to present evidence at a personal recognizance hearing, then he should consult with a criminal defense attorney. Even though the process is fairly simple, a hearing to be released on your own recognizance is not an opportunity to be wasted.