CHANGES COMING FOR THE HARRIS COUNTY BOND SYSTEM

The Harris County bail system continues to grab national headlines with a recent Associated Press article. (Read Here) 

Last October brought a rally in downtown Houston that attracted over 200 people seeking bail reform.  There is growing frustration over the bail schedule in Harris County and the reliance on cash bonds.   County officials are implementing several new strategies to streamline cases, conduct better pretrial risk assessments, and provide counsel to people at bail hearings.  Some of these measures are funded under the county’s MacArthur grant.  These new processes will provide some relief to poor people who cannot afford to make bail.   However, people with the money to bail out will still be released a few hours after arrest.

Houston Criminal Defense Attorney, Terry W. Yates says, “Accused citizens who can make bail are in a much superior position to defend themselves against the pending charges.  They are able to earn money, more efficiently assist their attorneys and keep their personal affairs in order.”  People on bond are treated very differently by prosecutors, judges, and even juries.  “Defendants who fight their case from the Harris County Jail are up against so many factors that it is almost impossible to get justice”, says Yates.

According to Yates, one of the most oppressive features of the bond system in Harris County is the ‘high bond’ requests prosecutors obtain in white collar cases.   “We had a client that was arrested on a $700,000.00 bond a couple of years ago in a white collar case.   He was acquitted of the charges last Friday.   Had a bond not been made, an innocent man would have sat in jail for over 2 years”, Yates added.

Changes may be on the horizon on a statewide basis.   The Texas Judicial Council, chaired by Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, recently voted to accept the resolution and recommendations of the Council’s Criminal Justice Committee.  The Judicial Council will craft statutory language for the legislature’s consideration in the upcoming session based on these recommendations.  The bail insurance industry has seen this coming, and their representatives are already coming to Texas from their out-of-state offices in Indiana to lobby our legislators.