Personal Recognizance and You

If you’ve ever watched a procedural cop drama, you’ve probably heard the term “personal recognizance.” On TV, police officers use the word like it’s a get-out-of-jail-free card which the arrestee doesn’t deserve. But, as with most things shown on procedural cop shows, the reality of personal recognizance is a little different.

What does “personal recognizance” mean?

Sometimes referred to as “own recognizance” and abbreviated as “OR,” personal recognizance means an arrestee is not charged bail. Instead, the judge grants release according to terms that he or she sets out. Before a judge grants OR, the arrestee must sign a written agreement to abide by the conditions of the agreement and appear at all future court dates.

A Note of Caution:

The rules related to personal recognizance vary from state to state. The rules in Nevada may differ considerably compared to the rules in Texas, for example, so it’s always important to check the local laws, regulations, and procedures affecting personal recognizance in your state. Below, we provide an outline for how OR works in general. Remember, though, that the specifics may vary.

How does OR work?

To get OR, a defendant must submit an official request to the judge. The judge has absolute discretion about granting OR, just like lowered bail. If the judge decides to grant OR, he or she drafts an agreement the defendant must adhere to between the hearing and the next court date.

Many judges rely on OR officers to determine if he or she should grant OR. These officers investigate the defendant to decide if granting OR is a reasonable ruling. If you have requested OR, you can ask positive character witnesses to contact the OR officer and vouch for you. After his or her investigation, the OR officer makes a nonbinding recommendation to the judge which informs the ruling.

When will a judge grant OR?

OR is not available in felony cases. It is usually only granted in specific cases. Judges base the decision to grant OR on several conditions, including the following:

  • Community involvement
  • Criminal record
  • Employment and employment prospects
  • Family connections
  • Results of a background check
  • Risk of fleeing the area
  • Severity of the crime

As mentioned above, the judge has absolute discretion in OR rulings. Even in a case with a minor crime, the judge may decide not to grant OR.

What conditions can a judge put on OR?

Each OR agreement comes with a set of conditions the defendant must meet. This usually includes checking in with a law enforcement official, such as a parole officer. The conditions may also include any of the following:

  • Attendance to an educational program
  • Curfew
  • Mandated rehab
  • Restrictions on travel
  • Seeking or retaining employment
  • Stay-away orders

While OR does not technically require any money down, some required check-in programs have fees for participation. For example, some programs where a defendant reports to a probation officer have a monthly fee of about $30 to $50.

What happens if you don’t meet your OR conditions?

If the conditions of release are not met, the court has several options, mostly financial. Usually, an OR defendant who fails to appear in court becomes liable for the full amount of the OR bond. Other consequences may include the following:

  • Frozen assets
  • Property seizure

After forfeiture of an OR bond, the defendant is subject to another arrest. The court may then return the defendant to jail without the option of OR. In some cases, failure to comply with the conditions of OR may then increase the set amount of bail and decrease the chance of the judge granting lowered bail.

How do you put in an OR request?

If you qualify for OR, you should make that request during your first appearance in front of the judge over your case. In most areas, you will only need to fill out a single-page request form and submit it to the court during your session, thus making a motion.

After making a motion, you must request a hearing. During the hearing, you prove that you either cannot afford bail or have another reason not to be held for bail. Evidence or testimony may include the following:

  • Financial records showing a lack of assets
  • Medical records showing a serious condition
  • Testimony about your life circumstances

While other motions can be made continuously, OR requests can only be put in once. Defendants who anticipate asking for OR should prepare to make an argument for why the judge should grant OR.

What do you do if the judge denies your OR request?

Because judges have no obligation to grant OR, it’s possible your request will be denied. After OR denial it is still possible to request a bail decrease. Whether or not the judge grants the decrease, you should get in touch with a bail agent.

After OR is denied, the only way to leave jail between the hearing and your next court date is to post bail.

Navigating the court system can be difficult. It’s in your best interest, as an arrestee or an arrestee’s family member, to contact a bail bondsman and a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible if for no other reason than because they will be intimately familiar with the rules regarding OR in your state and therefor will be best able to advise you regarding your choices.

Use this knowledge to make an informed decision about your freedom.