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Houston lawyer breaks down how judges set bail bonds

GF Default - Tavores Henderson Makes Court Appearance
GF Default - Tavores Henderson Makes Court Appearance

HOUSTON – Once news broke that Tavores Henderson, 21, who is accused of killing Sgt. Kaila Sullivan, was awarded a $150,000 bond, several law enforcement officials and community leaders publicly called the bail bond too low.

So what the bond too low, too high or just right? KPRC 2 legal analyst Brian Wice provided these answers:

How are bail bonds set?

Bail bonds in felony cases, as opposed to misdemeanors, are generally set according to a schedule enacted by the Harris County Criminal District Court judges. Each level of felony offense, from state jail felonies to capital murders, has a presumptive figure attached to it. In certain cases -- such as theft or drugs -- bond may be set at double the amount of the property alleged to have been stolen or double the street value of the drugs. If the accused has prior felony convictions, bond may be raised beyond the presumptive amount. Certain offenders are not eligible for bond, including those individuals accused of capital murder, or those alleged to have violated probation, those who have committed a felony while on bond for a felony, or habitual offenders facing a mandatory sentence of 25 to life.

How much is a person usually required to pay?

It varies. They can pay the entire amount in cash and get it back when the case is final or they can pay a bonding company anywhere from 8% to 10% that they will not get back. If the accused becomes a fugitive and the trial judge grants the motion to forfeit the bond, the bonding company is on the hook.

Henderson was initially charged with murder and the judge set his bond at $150,000. Many were outraged and said his bond is too low. Was the $150,000 bond set in Henderson’s case low or high for typical felony murder cases?

In my 40 years of experience as a criminal lawyer and 25 years as a legal analyst, I believe that, given the facts of the charged offense, and the defendant’s prior criminal history, his likely danger to the community, and the fact that he has already shown himself to be a flight risk, this bond was extremely low, especially in light of the State having filed a motion for a high bond.

This morning, Henderson’s charges were upgraded to capital murder. How does this change his bond?

I believe the state will seek to have this defendant held without bond; and I would expect Judge Amy Martin in the 263rd District Court to grant the State’s request.

What is the ultimate purpose of a bond and how it related to the Henderson case?

The ultimate purpose of a bond is to ensure that the accused appears in court. The law says that it is not to be used as an instrument of oppression, and that the judge or magistrate may consider the nature of the offense and the facts of the alleged offense in setting bond as well as the safety of the community and the safety of the victim. If the accused believes his bond is inappropriately high, he may seek a reduction by filing a writ of habeas corpus, which most criminal lawyers incorrectly refer to as a motion to reduce bond.