Defining Bail Jumping
For practical purposes, bail jumping is merely failing to show up to court when ordered to do so. It’s one of the stranger and more abused (by prosecutors) offenses because bail jumping can constitute anything from a simple misdemeanor to a class A felony.
Again, to oversimplify:
If you are charged with a class A felony and fail to show up, the BJ is a class A offense.
The conduct is the same, but the consequences range from 90 days to 20 years!
There are two main defenses to bail jumping: (1) client did not know they were required to appear and/or failed to receive proper notice; & (2) “uncontrollable circumstances prevented the person from appearing or surrendering, and that the person did not contribute to the creation of such circumstances in reckless disregard of the requirement to appear or surrender, and that the person appeared or surrendered as soon as such circumstances ceased to exist.” RCW 9A.76.170.
The “uncontrollable circumstances” defense is where the charge gets abused.
The pattern jury instruction definition of “uncontrollable circumstance” is fairly narrow, arguably excluding car trouble and there is case law expressly excluding any illness as a defense unless the illness progressed to the point of hospitalization. See WPIC 19.17 and State v Fredrick, 123 Wn.App. 347, 352, 97 P.3d 47 (2004).
Furthermore, you can be charged with bail jumping because you were in jail in another jurisdiction when you were supposed to appear at the scheduled hearing. The prosecutor’s argument for this is that it’s the defendant’s fault for getting arrested when they knew they had a court date. Juries don’t like this argument, and skilled defense attorneys can blow it out of the water, but the point of filing the additional charge is to increase the risk of asserting Constitutional rights against the State.
How Bail Jumping Charges Are Abused
There are many things involved in the criminal justice system that seem to be purposely designed to prevent the defendant from asserting their right to trial. Bail jumping is one of them, because it gives the State the opportunity to charge the Defendant with an additional crime simply by virtue of missing a court date. The ironic thing is that sentencing guidelines sometimes punish people more severely for missing just one court date than for the crime that brought them there in the first place.