• July 9, 2023

Bail Jumping for Beginners in Washington State


In Washington state, a person commits the crime of “jumping on bail” if they have been released on parole or bail, and released knowing that they must return to court for a later hearing. Washington Revised Code 9A.76.170(1). A person is also guilty of skipping bail if he is aware of the requirement to report to a correctional facility to serve a sentence and fails to do so. ID. In simple terms, if you are charged with a crime and you don’t show up in court when you know you should, or if you don’t show up to jail (or prison) to serve your sentence when you know you should, you are guilty of the crime. crime of jumping on bail.

The bail jumping offense can be a felony or a misdemeanor. The class, or level, of the charge of missing bail depends on the crime for which you are originally charged and for which you fail to appear. Bailout is:

(a) A class A felony if the person was arrested, charged, or convicted of first degree murder;

(b) A class B felony if the person was arrested, charged, or convicted of a class A felony other than first degree murder;

(c) A class C felony if the person was arrested, charged, or convicted of a class B or class C felony;

(d) A misdemeanor if the person was arrested, charged, or convicted of a serious or minor misdemeanor.

Washington Revised Code 9A.76.170(3).


Is there any defense to jumping bail? Yes. There is an affirmative defense. An affirmative defense means that you admit that you did the act, but it was legally justified. The defense is established in the statute of jumping on bail. It states:

It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under this section.

that uncontrollable circumstances prevented the person from

appear or surrender, and that the person did not contribute

to the creation of such circumstances in reckless disregard of the

appearance or surrender requirement, and that the person appeared

or delivered as soon as such circumstances ceased to exist.

Washington Revised Code 9A.76.170(2).

The question is: What is considered “uncontrollable circumstances”? Uncontrollable circumstances means that you have no control over the circumstances that caused you to lose the hearing. An act of God can qualify. For example, if you don’t go to court because a tornado lifts your car (or you) and crashes it (or you) into the ground, then you may have a good defense that you missed your required court date due to circumstances uncontrollable. If you are in the hospital, that may qualify if you can get a note from your doctor stating that you were hospitalized and physically unable to go to court. Be careful though, if you were in the hospital for something you did, the prosecutor may argue that you “contributed to the creation of such circumstances.” If you are kidnapped and held hostage, that can also qualify as a defense. Whatever uncontrollable circumstance is keeping you from making your court date, just make sure that as soon as you can, you get on the court calendar so that you meet the requirement to appear or surrender as soon as your uncontrollable circumstance ceases . exist.

There may be other defenses that would fall under the “burden of proof” category. That means the tax authority simply does not have enough evidence to prove each element of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt. For example, they may not have any record that you were served with the required court date and therefore were unable to prove the knowledge element.

Generally speaking, however, proving a breach of bail charge is relatively easy for prosecutors. All they need is 1) a certified copy of the promise to appear in court on the specific day that was signed by the defendant when they received the court date, and 2) a witness, such as a court clerk who can testify that on the date the defendant was due to appear, the court record indicates that he or she did not appear.

A copy of the promise to appear signed by the defendant certifies knowledge of the requirement to appear. In the county where I practice, the language in the order setting the next mandatory court date states:

Defendant is ordered to appear at all hearings fit for trial

[a pretrial or status hearing]… The defendant’s failure to appear

at trial or fitness for trial or any other hearing established by the

Court may result in the issuance of a warrant for your arrest, forfeiture of

Bail and/or criminal prosecution for Jumping Bail in accordance with

Washington Revised Code 9A.76.170.

A bail jump charge can be very difficult to defend. Simply forgetting your short date is not a defense. The Washington State Court of Appeals Division Two held that, based on a simple reading of the statute, “I forgot” is not a defense. The prosecution only has to prove that it was made aware of the trial date, not that it was made aware of the date every day thereafter.

For the defense attorney, they must research the law and case records. They must determine whether the hearing was one for which the defendant was actually required to appear. There are different types of hearings and not all of them require mandatory appearances. They must investigate and determine if the defendant actually had knowledge of the requirement to appear at the hearing, and if so, if there is any actual evidence to prove it. Is there a living witness such as an employee who will be called by the prosecution? Is there a certified copy of a signed promise to appear? Finally, they must investigate the reason for the non-appearance and determine if it was an “uncontrollable circumstance”.


As stated above, skipping bail is a misdemeanor if the defendant “was detained, charged, or convicted of a serious or minor misdemeanor.” Washington Revised Code 9A.76.170(3)(d). The maximum penalty for a misdemeanor is 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. In those cases, the sentencing judge has the authority to sentence the bail jumper from 0 to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $1000. Additionally, the defendant may be placed on probation and may be required to pay probation fees.

If the bail jumping offense falls into one of the felony classes, it becomes a bit more complicated. In Washington, the sentencing scheme basically works on a grid system. The vertical border of the grid is the “severity level”. The horizontal border is the “offender score”. There are 16 levels of seriousness in the Washington system. Level sixteen has only one offense: Aggravated First Degree Murder. The only two penalties for that crime are life in prison without the possibility of parole and the death penalty, regardless of your offender score. The lowest severity level is One. That level includes crimes such as Theft in the Second Degree (theft of property valued between $750 and $5,000) and Forgery. Offender scoring consists of rating prior felony convictions. When you determine the severity level of the offense and the offender’s score, you will find the “standard range” sentence that must be imposed by the court. There are exceptions to imposing a sentence within the standard range, but that’s a discussion for another day. Generally, the court must impose a sentence within the standard range. If that happens, no one can appeal that award. If the court imposes an “exceptional” award outside the standard range, either party may appeal.

Jumping on bail for a first degree murder charge has a severity level of six. With an offender score of 0 (zero), the standard range sentence is twelve months plus one day (which means prison) to fourteen months. The offender’s score only reaches nine on the sentence grid. Anything higher than nine will fall into the standard range for an offender score of nine. The standard range for Jump Bail with First Degree Murder with an offender score of nine is 77 to 102 months in prison.

Jumping on bail for an original charge of a Class A felony has a severity level of five. The standard sentencing range starts with 6 to 12 in your local county jail. For an offender with a score of more than nine, the range is 72 to 96 months in prison.

Finally, Jumping Bail on a Class B or C Felony has a severity level of Three. With an offender score of 0, the range is one to three months in jail. The range for an offender score of more than nine is 51-60 months. Sixty months, or five years, is the maximum sentence.


As you can see, the crime of jumping on bail is easy to commit. If you simply miss your short date, you can be charged and convicted of skipping bail. You can also see that it is easy for the prosecution to prove and difficult for the defense to defend and the consequences are severe.

So the word to the wise is DON’T MISS THE COURT! The wise will not even be late. If they say your name and you are not there, you risk receiving a failure to appear, a warrant for your arrest, and a charge of jumping bail. Assist in your defense, not in your prosecution; don’t miss your short appointment.

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