ACLU of Texas obtained a crucial win in its lawsuit against Galveston County’s bail practices, which both lawyers and judges have stated discriminate against indigent criminal defendants. A federal district court judge recently issued a temporary injunction in the 2018 lawsuit that requires indigent defendants to be represented by an attorney during their first court appearances. At these hearings, judges determine bail amounts and conditions that may allow individuals to be released from jail before trial.
Galveston County had joined a growing number of Texas counties, including Harris and Dallas Counties, who now are subject to court orders reforming their bail practices. The court ruling in the case concerning Galveston County is the first to conclude that the Sixth Amendment requires the provision of defense counsel at initial hearings to set bail.
In response to the ruling, the Galveston County District Attorney’s Office and the county felony judges requested that a 30-day stay of the order. However, the federal court judge declined to stay the order, which is set to go into effect on September 25, 2019.
The Galveston County lawsuit stemmed from the arrest of Aaron Booth in April 2018 on a felony drug possession charge. At his initial hearing, a prosecutor recommended, and the court ordered, that Booth post money bail of $20,000 without regard to his financial situation. Booth could not request a court-appointed lawyer until after his bail hearing and ultimately spent 54 days in jail before getting a hearing to ask for a lower bail amount. Booth, who was convicted of possessing less than one gram of a controlled substance, served a total of 100 days in jail.
Since federal court rulings have sparked changes in Harris and Dallas Counties, Galveston County has reformed other aspects of its pretrial procedures. Although the prosecutor still recommends a bail amount based on a bail schedule, the judicial officer has financial information about the defendant available at the first bail hearing. Individuals who want to request a lower bond also can get a second bail hearing, typically within 12 hours of their initial court appearance.
When you are facing any criminal charges in the state of Texas, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to represent your interests. Contact Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445 today and set up an appointment to speak with our legal team.