There’s a legal battle over the system of bail in Dallas County, and elements are coming to a head. The sides are coming to an agreement and met on Thursday the 17th to strike an agreement, and they had a professional mediator sitting in the midst of them. A big table was set out to include county court representatives, two sets of judges, a district attorney, the Texas attorney general, and plaintiffs for the lawsuit. The issue: should felony charges be a part of reforms.
Felonies, as many know, are the highest type of offense in the United States and Texas. Their charges range from 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree, capital felony (warranting life in prison or, in some rare cases, the death penalty), and a state jail felony. They are significantly higher in crime than misdemeanors, and changing the bail for felonies would significantly alter reforms. The meeting for a deal on felony charges is a significant step and extends the ongoing battle on justice reform.
History of the Battle Over Bail
When did all this arguing over bail reform begin? The debate started in 2018, when residents got together and decided to sue the county over how Dallas sets up bail. Bail, before the suit, was usually on a fixed schedule that didn’t budge, and was based on the crime.
Then, a federal judge decided on using cash for bail. Unfortunately, that judge’s decision did not take into account one thing – the individual’s ability to pay.
Justice reform advocates are marching after this law and determined to change it. Many advocates for the cash bail elimination movement cite the amount of poor people in jail unable to afford bail as the major reason for bail reform. The amount of people in jail unable to afford bail is now up to 70%.
Organizers Argue for Poor and Disadvantaged Cases
Texas organizer David Villalobos argued that a person’s money shouldn’t determine whether or not he or she has a right to rejoin society. Those in jail waiting for trial because they can’t afford to pay bail (most often the poor or otherwise disadvantaged) usually have their lives put on hold – housing, jobs, and families are overlooked, overhauling that person’s whole livelihood.
The county proposed that in a defendant’s case, a public defender would meet with a district attorney representative and look over the case. After looking over the defendant’s finances and doing a risk assessment, the judge would set the bail to an amount the defendant could afford, or be released on a bond. The bond could have stipulations – like an ankle monitor or drug test – but not be cash-based.
Judges Put Unofficial Practices Into Practice
A few felony judges have in some cases have begun the practice listed above, even as the lawsuit is underway. The practice is getting more common in misdemeanor cases, too. But will there be a resolution? Followers of the bail battle will have to stay tuned to find out.
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