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Harris County implemented major bail reforms after federal courts held unconstitutional the common practice of requiring preset cash bail amounts without accounting for a defendant’s personal circumstances. However, Republican lawmakers are now trying to counter these reforms, pushing for legislation that would link bail determinations to the severity of the alleged crimes.
As a result of the Harris County reforms, most misdemeanor offenders are eligible for no-cost release while awaiting trial. Exceptions are people accused of domestic abuse or those with previous bail bond violations. Under this system, tens of thousands of people arrested for misdemeanors have been released without posting bail.
There is no evidence that these bail reforms have increased crime or put the public in danger. In fact, the researchers monitoring the results of the changes to the misdemeanor bail system have found that the proportion of defendants arrested for new crimes in the year following their original arrest has actually decreased.
Despite these positive results, Republican legislators have voiced their support for legislation that would make pretrial release more dependent on cash bail. Texas State Senator Paul Bettencourt has introduced a bill that would limit the use of personal recognizance (PR) bonds and would require defendants to post cash bail if they are arrested while out of jail on PR bonds. The bill would also require a minimum $10,000 bond for defendants accused of multiple felonies. In addition, State Senator Joan Huffman has filed legislation that would prohibit bail-free release for a much wider array of defendants, including people accused of low-level drug possession.
The issue has also captured the attention of Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who has determined that bail changes are a legislative priority. Abbott is also supporting the proposed Damon Allen Act, which would create pretrial risk assessment tools and impose standards for magistrates to use in setting bail.
Opponents of these new proposals believe they will create constitutional issues similar to those found in Harris County. With a cash bail system, a person who has been accused of a crime can be stuck in jail for months if they can’t afford bail, while an individual with financial means who is facing similar charges can walk free within hours. Bail experts argue that any time cash bail is involved, this type of inequity will be unavoidable.
The criminal defense attorneys of the Law Offices of Kevin Collins in San Antonio are devoted supporters of bail reform. We have substantial experience navigating the Texas bail system and have an exceptional track record of getting our clients released. If you’ve been charged with a crime and are looking for a zealous advocate to defend you, call 210-598-8629 or contact us online to speak with a member of our skilled legal team.