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4 Ways To Reduce Your Failure to Appear Rate

The author Anne Rice once said, "To write something, you have to risk making a fool of yourself." She was referring to writing works of literature, but she may as well have been talking about writing bail bonds. Every time you write a bond, you face the very real risk that the person will fail to appear in court. The national average indicates that between 15 to 19 percent of people released on surety bail fails to appear, but that number varies agency by agency -- often depending on the business practices used.

We spoke with PBUS Vice President Marco J. LiMandri, a longtime San Diego bail businessman, and Ohio-based bail agent Tina Valli, both of whom shared some tried-and-true techniques to ensure that people show up to court. Before you face a possible financial loss or spend time and money tracking down a fugitive, we have some advice for you collected straight from the lips of industry insiders.

1) Low-risk underwriting

Both LiMandri and Valli stressed that intelligent underwriting is the first and most important step in preventing failures to appear. Some agencies are more willing to write bonds for high-risk defendants, but LiMandri said he loses no sleep at night worrying about missed court appearances because he is so discerning when evaluating potential clients.

From the moment a potential client contacts you, it's time to evaluate them and identify any factors that could lead to missed court dates or the defendant fleeing the area. Questions that you should be asking both defendants and their co-signers include:

  • Are they local or from out of town? People from out of town are sometimes less inclined to stick around once they're out on bail.
  • Do they have a stable job or are their co-signers gainfully employed?
  • Do they have ties to the community (family, friends, groups, etc.) that are a strong incentive for them to stay?
  • Do they have a history of failures to appear?
  • Can the defendant or their co-signers put up sufficient collateral?
  • How do the person's prior offenses relate to the current charge? According to LiMandri, if the person has had a DUI but was arrested for domestic violence, that's not an issue. But if the person has prior domestic violence arrests and is arrested for domestic violence, he or she might be a flight risk because the penalty will likely be more strict.

Once you have established that the potential client meets most or all of these criteria, your chances of dealing with missed court dates are already greatly reduced. LiMandri said that agencies that write bonds for high-risk defendants are likely above the national rate in failures to appear, and they're probably not destined for business success in the long run.

"Every agency that simply writes for premium is writing bonds today to pay for the bonds they lost yesterday and will eventually implode," LiMandri said.

2) Improved communication

It is the bail agent's responsibility to make the client aware of his or her responsibilities to the court, to the bail agent and to the Indemnitor. The information and instructions that you provide upon taking on a new client should be as complete and understandable as possible to avoid missed court appearances. Valli said that confusion between defendants and bail agents is probably the biggest contributing factor that she has observed when defendants miss court.

"Most of the time if they fail to appear, it's miscommunication. They're not purposely missing court," Valli said.

Things to discuss with your clients in specific terms include:

  • Court date and time. Make sure this information is retained by the defendant and/or co-signer.
  • Ensure that the defendant and Indemnitors understand that they are responsible for the full bond amount if the person doesn't show in court, as well as any remaining balance if they don't pay in full up front.
  • Valli has clients sign a paper which states that intentionally missing court could lead to Valli's company spending time and money to locate the person, and those fees will come out of the pockets of the defendant and Indemnitors.

3) Keep in touch

Valli and LiMandri said by the time they have determined that the defendant is low-risk and they have provided clear instructions to them, they are very confident that they will show up at court. But if bail agents feel it's necessary, or if it's a large bond, they said businesses shouldn't hesitate to hedge their bets with follow-up efforts. Especially because LiMandri points out that there's always the chance of someone oversleeping, going to the wrong courthouse or simply forgetting.

Typical contact with clients ranges from occasional in-person visits, phone calls, and postcards, to virtually babysitting the defendant or giving wake-up calls the day of the scheduled court appearance. The person might not be enthusiastic about being reminded of their court date, but the effort can save both you and them a lot of money and time in the end.

4) Employ new technology

GPS has given bail agents a new way to keep track of high-risk clients, although many have yet to use it -- possibly because of the cost, or because they are confident that they don't need it. LiMandri said he doesn't use GPS in his business, but he can see how it could be a potential help to bail agents.

"The jury's still out on GPS," LiMandri said. "The way GPS is going to work for the judicial system is to tie it to a bail bond if you're going to use it. You can specify in the contract that they're going to wear GPS, and have the Indemnitor sign it."

Conclusion

It's nearly impossible to win 'em all in the bail business; some people are just dead-set on missing court no matter who pays for it. But with some strategic selection of who you write bonds for and regular use of some of these techniques, you have the power to reduce the risk of people failing to appear in court.

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