For the most part, much of the current efforts to reform bail practices are through rules, statutory or even state constitutional amendments. But, there is litigation, and a decision from the Federal Court in Texas is worth noting.
A federal judge recently issued a 193 page ruling, holding that the Harris County money bail system is unconstitutional and saying it is fundamentally unfair to detain indigent people arrested for low-level offenses simply because they can’t afford to pay bail. In his ruling, Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal ordered the county to begin releasing indigent inmates as early as May 15 without posting cash bail while they are awaiting trial on misdemeanor offenses.
Rosenthal concluded the county’s bail policy violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the Constitution, and granted “class-action” status to the case, meaning that her findings will apply to all misdemeanor defendants.”Liberty is precious to Americans and any deprivation must be scrutinized,” the order states, citing a comment from Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan.The ruling — a temporary action that will stay in place until the lawsuit is resolved — will not apply to those charged with felonies, or those who are being detained on other charges or holds. First Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard said late Friday that officials are reviewing the orders.”No decision has been made at this time concerning an appeal of the preliminary injunction.”