Sheriff Henson: Capias important tool in criminal justice system

By Greg Miller

STAR STAFF
gmiller@starhq.com

  
The capias is an important tool in the criminal justice system, according to Carter County Sheriff John Henson.
   "A capias is a paper that's issued usually by the court or by a judge," Henson said. "Usually, when a capias is issued, the person has failed to appear in court or failed to appear on bond.
   "A capias actually proves to you that you cannot skip the court system. If you don't appear, I don't care if it isn't anything but a parking ticket, a capias is going to be issued for you. And where you were issued a summons before, you're going to be arrested and placed in jail.
   "Nine times out of 10, it's going to be after hours, and you're going to spend some time up in the jail, where normally, if you had gone ahead and come back to court and had it taken care of, you wouldn't have had to do that. The important thing about it is that it shows people that they don't want to skip their court date.
   "Once you're brought into the court system, a state warrant is usually issued. A court date is set on that, and when you make bond, if you have property signers or cash bond, or whatever you put up, if you fail to appear on your court date, the judge will issue a capias.
   "It is an arrest warrant. It may have a cash bond on it, or it will have no bond. If the charge is serious enough (such as drug charges or assault), it will be no bond, and you'll be held on that capias until the court date." Bond is possible in some cases involving offenses such as traffic citations or public intoxication, the sheriff said.
   After a capias is issued, "the cash bond is usually for the amount of the bond to start with, plus court costs. And once the capias is issued, there will be court costs attached to that. They really don't realize the seriousness of it. Another thing they don't realize is that it's costing them double. It's a double dipper."
   Those who are charged with traffic offenses should make a point of keeping their court date, according to Henson. Someone who is issued a ticket for speeding or driving without a driver's license on their person and is stopped for another law violation, "and you get issued a summons to appear in court, and you don't appear in court, your license can be revoked for that. Once that's sent in to the Department of Safety in Nashville that you failed to appear, you're talking about big bucks.
   "You have to go through the Department of Safety, plus pay costs on the ticket, and as long as you have an outstanding charge on that, you can't possess a driver's license. I don't care what state it's in."
   The bail bondsman can be held liable when a client misses a court date, Henson said. "All that court cost will be attached to that, the cost of keeping him here in jail, and the cost that it took to reissue the paperwork and have him picked back up," Henson remarked.
   "Most capiases are issued for misdemeanor charges, like theft under $500, driving without a driver's license, driving on a revoked driver's license, speeding... Usually, that's what the people don't appear on."
   A lot of those charged with drug-related offenses also don't appear.
   The number of capiases issued in Carter County has decreased, according to Henson. "We don't have as many capiases as we used to," he said. "Before they got this deal of revoking your driver's license for a ticket, we had a lot of them. Troopers would stop and give a ticket to someone from out of state, and they never did come back. And the chances of catching that person are probably 10 to one that you'll never catch that guy. He'll never be back in this state. You can't extradite a man from another state on a misdemeanor. But since they started revoking their driver's licenses on these traffic offenses, that's cut down on it a whole lot. That sent a message out to people, too.
   "It's so much more simple, if you have a case in court, just come on back in and take care of the case while you're here. If you skip bond, eventually, you're going to get picked up, especially if it's a felony. Eventually, you will wind up back in the system if you don't appear.
   "Sometimes, it can cost you a night in jail or maybe two or three days in jail, so it's costly. It's a bad choice, I'll say that. It's a bad choice not to appear in court when you have a summons or a citation."