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Texas Bail Reform Legislation Falls Short, But System Improvements Are Underway

More than two years after federal courts ruled cash bail systems in Dallas and Harris counties unconstitutional, the Texas legislature has been unable to pass bail reform legislation. In May 2019, the House passed a bill that would have implemented measures to make bail more available to poorer defendants. But the bill never made it to the Senate, landing in the dust heap of earlier failed efforts. Nevertheless, the court rulings and the attention drawn by activists to the inequities of the bail system have resulted in some changes.

Critics of cash bail say it is fundamentally unjust, since at bail hearings, magistrates often rely on a fixed schedule that sets bail according to the charged offense, without considering the risk of flight or the defendant’s ability to pay. Even a relatively low bail amount is out of reach for many poor defendants, making it more likely for them to plead guilty to avoid a lengthy pretrial jail stay. Meanwhile, defendants with greater means can easily post bail and walk free while they await trial. Across the country and throughout Texas, reform advocates have called for an end to cash bail, suggesting house arrest, ankle bracelets and other forms of supervised release.

In 2017 and 2018, federal courts found that cash bail practices in Harris and Dallas counties unconstitutionally discriminated against poor defendants. The rulings required the counties to review their practices and to consider alternatives to cash bail for every defendant arrested, assessing a defendant’s risk of flight and danger to the community based on such factors as their criminal history and economic situation. The counties are in the process of implementing these measures, though progress has been hampered by the need to hire and train personnel to handle the assessment process.

The bill that passed in May, HB 2020, called for creating a state bail advisory commission to collect data and to make best practices recommendation for risk assessment tools to be used when determining bail. Among other requirements, courts would have been prohibited from considering factors that “disproportionately affect persons who are members of racial or ethnic minority groups or who are socioeconomically disadvantaged.”

If you or a family member is arrested in Texas, a qualified criminal defense lawyer is indispensable at the bail hearing in order to make sure that the best arguments for pretrial release on low bail or even without bail are made. The means stressing to the court such factors as a steady employment, a stable family life, ties to the community and a favorable prior history with the court system.

Kevin L. Collins is an experienced trial lawyer and former prosecutor who vigorously defends his clients, no matter the charges. The legal team at Kevin L. Collins, P.C. in San Antonio is ready to represent you anywhere in the state. Call me at 210-598-8629 or contact me online for immediate assistance.

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