Federal appeals court upholds ruling against Harris County bail practices, with some modification

The question of whether the Harris County bail bond system is unfair to misdemeanor defendants who cannot afford bail, has been settled for now by a federal court.

According to reporting by the Texas Tribune, on Feb. 14, a federal appellate court upheld U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal's April 2017 ruling that Harris County's bail practices are unfair to the poor but asked Rosenthal to revise her decision on several points.

The matter began with a lawsuit filed in September 2016 alleging the county unfairly jails those who cannot afford to pay cash bail. The suit alleged that a “wealth-based pretrial detention system” violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

The suit was filed by three individuals who were charged with misdemeanors in 2016 and held in Harris County jail because they could not pay bail.

The individuals filed the suit “on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated,” according to court documents.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Rosenthal's ruling Wednesday, but asked the district judge to revise her original order, which mandated the release of misdemeanor defendants within 24 hours of arrest if they claim they can not afford bail.

According to Tribune reporting, the court asked Rosenthal for a modified ruling, suggesting a procedure that would include a hearing for defendants unable to afford bail within 48 hours, during which time they can argue for bond that is lower or free of cost.

Robert Soard, first assistant attorney with the Harris County Attorney’s Office, released a statement that the county was satisfied with the ruling, according to the Tribune.

“The 5th Circuit agreed that money bail could be used after an assessment of risk in accordance with Texas law,” Soard said in a statement.

According to the Tribune, Rosenthal's original ruling will stand while the case goes back to her for revision.
By Vanessa Holt
A resident of the Houston area since 2011, Vanessa began working in community journalism in her home state of New Jersey in 1996. She joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2016 as a reporter for the Spring/Klein edition and became editor of that paper in March 2017 and editor of The Woodlands edition in January 2019.


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