Harris County Federal Bail Bonds Lawsuit Spreads Beyond Houston

By Peek & Toland on May 14, 2018

Bail practices in Texas occupied many hours in courtrooms in 2017 with a federal bail bonds lawsuit in Harris County. Now the lawsuit is spreading beyond Houston.

The Texas Tribune reported in late 2017 Harris County’s saga over its under-fire bail practices is playing out in federal court. It may have implications for other jurisdictions in the Lone Star State.

Harris County is embroiled in a complicated legal battle over how its bail procedures impact poor misdemeanor defendants who are awaiting trial. A federal lawsuit has questioned the constitutionality of the county’s pretrial system.

In the past, we have noted how arrestees who can’t afford bail bonds regularly languish in jail — often until the resolution of their case days or weeks later. They are often held on minor crimes while defendants on similar charges who have cash to afford bail are released.

Harris County bail bonds lawsuit

Harris County bail bonds lawsuit spreads

The bail system is meant to ensure accused people show up in court for subsequent hearings. Money is typically put down and it must be paid by defendants before they are released.

However, the case bail system is under fire across the country for penalizing the poor.

A bond can be paid in full to the court and then refunded after all court appearances are kept. More often it’s paid through a bond company that charges a nonrefundable percentage — typically about 10 percent — but will front the whole cost.

In 2016, prisoners in Harris County Hail filed suit against Harris County, reported the Texas Tribune. They alleged they were wrongfully detained in the jail because they were too impoverished to pay their bail bonds. The lawsuit covered a wide range of defendants who were arrested on misdemeanors, like driving with an invalid license or petty larceny crimes including shoplifting.

In April 2017, U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal branded Harris County’s bail practices as unconstitutional. He ordered the release of almost all misdemeanor defendants from Harris County Jail within 24 hours of arrest, notwithstanding their ability to pay the bond amount.

Harris County implemented reforms since the lawsuit. Officials appealed against the injunction at the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, where oral arguments were heard in New Orleans in October.

During the hearing, a panel of three Fifth Circuit judges expressed skepticism about Harris County’s bail system but also expressed wide concern about the scope of Judge Rosenthal’s order and whether it went too far.

If you are seeking jail released in Texas see our website or call our experienced Texas criminal defense lawyers at (512) 474-4445.

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Bail Process in Harris County Alarms Federal Appeal Judges

By Peek & Toland on March 1, 2018

The cash bail process is controversial in Texas, nowhere more so than in Harris County where bail practices have been examined by a federal court.

A panel of three federal appellate judges met in New Orleans in October. They were reported to be concerned about Harris County’s bail practices as they relate to low-income defendants on misdemeanor charges, reported the Texas Tribune.

We have noted how poor defendants often languish for long periods of time in Harris County Jail. Often they end up there on traffic offenses.

Some of these inmates filed a lawsuit in 2016. One them was Maranda Lynn O’Donnell. She was arrested for allegedly driving with an invalid license. She said she was jailed for two days, removing her from her four-year-old daughter and a new job at a restaurant.

In October, The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans held an hour-long hearing on many aspects of Harris County’s pretrial system.

In the biggest jail in the state, arrestees who can’t afford bail bonds often languish for days or even weeks behind bars.

Bail process in Harris County comes under scrutiny

Defendants who are arrested on similar crimes are released if they have the cash to make bond payments.

Harris County is fighting a ruling made in April 2017. U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal called its bail practices unconstitutional. The judge ordered the release of almost all misdemeanor defendants from Harris County Jail in 24 hours of arrest, irrespective of their ability to pay their bail amount.

Harris County is arguing that the federal courts are the incorrect venue for the current fight over bail. The Tribune noted Judges Edward Prado and Catharina Haynes were unconvinced.

Cash bail systems are coming under fire across the country. Some states are restricting their use.

In Harris County which includes the city of Houston, most misdemeanor defendants are released from jail pre-trial on money bail.

Typically, a court officer sets a cash amount. This is meant to ensure a defendant returns for future court hearings.

Judge Rosenthal said Harris County denied impoverished defendants their due process by routinely ignoring recommendations to release them on personal bonds involving no cash amount of they are too poor to afford bail.

It is deeply concerning that defendants languish in jail for days and even months for minor misdemeanors because they can’t afford to get out. Jails in Texas are notoriously unpleasant and some defendants have died due to intense heat.

If you are seeking a bail bond attorney in Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Round Rock or elsewhere in the state of Texas, you should contact us today for a consultation.

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Movement to Abolish Cash Bail Systems Gathers Pace

By Peek & Toland on January 10, 2018

Cash bail systems are the norm in most states but flaws in the system are leading to change in many areas.

Earlier this year, PBS reported on how New Jersey has eliminated cash bail in most instances.

The changes are intended to help people who cannot afford bail. In Passaic County Court in Paterson, Judge Ernest Caposela is spearheading a new system.

Paterson is New Jersey’s third-largest city. It’s an area of low incomes with one of the state’s highest crime rates.

Caposela helped devise a system in which judges and attorneys use a “public safety assessment,” to predict the risk a defendant poses.

The computer algorithm evaluates nine risk factors including whether defendants have failed to appear in court before or have previous violent convictions.

Defendants are given a score. Those who are allocated a low score can be released without paying bail.

Pressure is on cash bail systems

Cash bail systems come under fire

When higher risk defendants are released, they are fitted with electronic bracelets. Defendants also receive phone calls, texts, and regular emails to remind them of court dates.

This differs from a traditional cash bail system. Typically, when you are arrested and charged with a crime, the court can set a certain bail amount.

You have to pay this specific sum of money to be released from jail as your case proceeds. The sum of the cash bail reflects the risk factors such as a person’s criminal past and the likelihood of skipping a court appearance.

In Houston, the cash bail system has been under fire because hundreds of defendants charged with minor crimes languished in the state’s biggest jail for months.

In April, Chief U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal issued a ruling that Harris County’s bail system was unconstitutional. He ordered the release of misdemeanor defendants using personal bonds.

A lawsuit was brought by defendants who spent long periods in Harris County Jail for misdemeanor offenses because they could not afford bail.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the appeal court’s ruling against Harris County’s controversial bail system, even as county officials started releasing more than 100 misdemeanor inmates who could not afford to post cash bonds.

The bail system has become increasingly controversial in recent years. In some cases, defendants charged with non-violent offenses can’t even afford to hire a bail bondsman.

This can leave them trapped in a spiral of poverty. By remaining in jail, they lose their jobs. Even if found not-guilty, they struggle to get back on their feet.

If you are seeking jail release, you should seek the services of experienced Austin criminal defense lawyers. Call us at (512) 474-4445.

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Supreme Court to Review No Bail Policy for Immigrants Awaiting Deportation

By Peek & Toland on August 16, 2016

The Supreme Court is to decide whether immigrants who have been held in detention for at least six months awaiting deportation proceedings should be granted bail hearings.

The case of Jennings v Rodriguez will be held during the next term of the Supreme Court, which gets underway in October.

No bail policy for immigrants awaiting deportation to be reviewed by the Supreme Court

The justices will consider a federal appeals court decision that held immigrants in custody were entitled to a bond hearing after six months as well as every six months afterward.

The case of Jennings v. Rodriguez is also likely to consider when immigrants accused of having ties to terrorism should be released if the authorities are facing difficulties deporting them.

In 2001, the Supreme Court ruled that immigrants who are facing deportation from the country should usually be held no more than six months in custody. However, the justices alluded to special circumstances, such as when immigrants pose a perceived threat to national security when some immigrants could be incarcerated for longer terms.

As experienced Texas bond lawyers, Peek & Toland , have years of background in jail release issues which we combine with our immigration practice. It’s important to know your rights about how long you can be held in detention if you are facing deportation.

Civil Liberties Union Accuses Justice Department over Bail Information

The American Civil Liberties Union has accused the Justice Department of understating the time immigrants are held to bolster its case before a previous case more than a decade ago.

The Supreme Court case of Demore v. Kim in 2003, upheld by 5-4 the controversial government practice of holding immigrants without bail, even U.S. residents who hold green cards who face deportation if they commit a crime.

The majority opinion relied on figures that showed the average detention was 47 days, while about 15 percent of immigrants who appealed their deportation orders had been detained for more than four months.

The ACLU disputed the figures that were provided by the Executive Office for Immigration Review. It argued the real number was 65 days after filing a Freedom of Information Act request.

The forthcoming case is important because a system that can hold immigrants for months on end without a bond hearing is a demoralizing one for immigrant families. Clear rules are needed to prevent abuse.

Please contact us today to find out more about our legal services and how we can help immigrants who are facing deportation to fight for bail hearings as well as cancellation of removal.


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