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Texas pretrial jailing practices have recently come under fire. There have been a string of critical federal court rulings. Additionally, there have been multiple jail deaths and the murder of a state trooper drawing attention to Texas bail and pretrial jailing practices. Two of the most largely populated counties in Texas have bail practices that have been deemed unconstitutional by federal judges. The federal court rulings held that the bail practices were discriminatory against poor criminal defendants who did not have the means to pay for their release from jail. Calls for bail reform in Texas have reached such heights that they cannot be ignored any longer by state legislators.

Texas House Approves Bail Reform Bill

House Bill 2020 has been approved by the Texas House and it is on its way to the senate. The bill addresses some bail reform measures, although many critics of the bill say that it moves in the opposite direction than what people are pushing for. State Rep. Kyle Kacal, the bill’s author, worked with Gov. Greg Abbott’s office oh this bail reform measure.

The current bail reform bill, however, focuses more on making it more difficult for dangerous, or known violent offenders to get out of jail. Additionally, the bill looks to institute more training for judicial officers regarding setting bail. It is intended to give magistrate judges the right training to make informed bail decisions. Judicial officers tasked with deciding on bail for felony and certain misdemeanor cases would be required to go through a minimum of four hours of relevant training. It also sets heightened qualifications for magistrate judges. The bill also instructs judicial officers to consider the criminal history and the safety of law enforcement in setting bail.

Those calling for bail reform want to see that poor, nonviolent defendants are not being held in jail just because they cannot afford to post bail. While these poor defendants are stuck in jail, those defendants with greater financial resources are released. The bill did not really address these concerns. In fact, a late coming amendment may have moved things in the opposite direction. The amendment restricted release of defendants on personal bonds. Personal bonds do not have any upfront cost, making them particularly accessible to those defendants with low income. Proponents of the amendment site safety issues as it limited no-cost release for defendants involved in charges of sexual assault and family violence offenses.

Critics of the bill also reject the idea that the bill relies on bail money as opposed to the presumption of release on no-cost bonds for nonviolent defendants. This practice tends to keep people in jail simply because they cannot afford to pay their bonds. The bill also prevents judges from automatically releasing the majority of misdemeanor defendants who are held in jail on no-cost bonds. Proposed amendments that would let counties release defendants from jail on no-cost bonds prior to a risk assessment failed.

Committed Criminal Defense Counsel

Bail can make the difference between freedom and spending more time in jail. While bail reform continues to be a hot political topic, defendants are being held in jail for far too long because they have the inability to pay their bond. At Navarrete & Schwartz, P.C., we fight for our clients right from the beginning. We are here to zealously advocate for our clients at bail hearings and every step that follows. We are proud to serve the residences of Midland, Texas. Contact us today.