According to the Texas Tribune, commissioners in Harris County, Texas, have agreed to settle a federal lawsuit over how it sets bail for defendants in criminal court cases. Federal courts previously had held bail practices unconstitutional in Harris County. Although new and old county judges have been working to alter the bail system dramatically, the lawsuit remained pending. The settlement, which is estimated to cost up to $97 million, has several essential features:
- Establishes a new policy of automatic no-cash pretrial release for about 85% of low-level criminal defendants
- Adds legal and social services for indigent defendants and assistance with transportation to court dates
Historically, the bail system was meant to ensure that criminal defendants would reappear in court as ordered if released before a trial on their criminal charges. The most popular form of bail was cash bail, which was an amount set by the judge based on the severity of the crime. Defendants could pay the entire bail amount would receive a refund from the court at the end of their cases if they appeared at all their hearings as scheduled. If defendants couldn’t pay bail, they sometimes could pay a nonrefundable percentage of the bail amount, which is usually about ten percent, to a bail bonds company. Based on the guarantee by the bail bonds company that they later would appear for court hearings, the defendants could be released from jail.
Under the previous bail system, some low-level defendants bailed out of jail immediately, whereas others would serve days in jail for the same offense because they could not afford bail. As a result of the federal court ruling, court officials must schedule bail hearings within two days of arrest. Defendants then can ask the court to lower the bail amount or release them without bail.
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.