Newly Elected Houston Judges Start to Implement Misdemeanor Bail Reform

February 26th, 2019 by Tad Nelson in Misdemeanor Crimes

When you are arrested for any crime–even a misdemeanor offense–a judge has the authority to set bail. Bail is not designed to be a punishment, which would be inappropriate before the defendant is even tried. Rather, bail is designed as a “security given by the accused that he will appear and answer before the proper court,” according to the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. In many misdemeanor cases, bail can take the form of a “personal bond,” where the defendant simply gives their word to appear.

Most Misdemeanor Defendants Will Be Released on “Personal Bond,” According to New Rules

Unfortunately, in many cases Texas judges have required some form of cash bond. This means that poorer defendants are often detained for weeks–or months–before trial simply because they cannot afford bail. For example, the Texas Tribune recently discussed a case where a grandmother accused of shoplifting $100 worth of clothes for her grandchildren “was kept in jail for about two months on a $150,000 bond.”

Indeed, the overuse of cash bail in Harris County misdemeanor cases led a federal judge to declare the entire system unconstitutional in 2017. As reported by KPRC-TV, the judges who then served on Harris County’s courts at the time “spent millions of dollars in public funds to pay three private law firms to defend the previous practices of jailing people because they could not pay for their release.” But this defiance proved costly at the polls, KPRC noted, as “every judge who fought bail reform lost re-election” last November, leading to the election of 15 new judges, who took the bench promising bail reform.

In mid-January, the newly installed judges adopted rules to ensure that most people accused of misdemeanor offenses will not be kept in jail simply due to an inability to afford cash bail. Under the new rules, according to KPRC, in Harris County courts “most misdemeanor arrestees will be released on a personal bond and given a court date without delay.”

Bail reform may also see renewed efforts at the state level. In early February, the Texas Tribune said the state legislature would take up the subject again, following the defeat of an earlier bail reform bill in 2017. A bipartisan group of legislators filed a bill that would “implement a risk-assessment tool for judges to use when making bail decisions.” Gov. Greg Abbott reportedly supports this reform due to his concerns “that the [current] system is flawed by letting dangerous people be released on money bail.”

Speak with a Galveston or League City Misdemeanor Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

Whatever the outcome of the statewide bill, the Harris County reforms are good news for people charged with misdemeanor offenses. But keep in mind, even if you are released on personal bond, you still need to deal with the underlying criminal charge. An experienced Houston criminal defense attorney can help. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today at  (281) 280-0100 if you have been charged with a misdemeanor crime and require immediate assistance.

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