Bad bail bill 2.0

This was also happening over the weekend.

Days into a short legislative session, Texas lawmakers are moving quickly to pass a GOP priority bill that would make it harder for some people who have been arrested but not convicted to bond out of jail without putting up cash.

Legislators in the House and Senate filed matching bills to change state bail practices earlier this week, echoing legislation that failed to pass in the regular session. On Saturday, committees in both chambers approved the bills and sent them to the full chambers after nearly three hours of debate in the Senate and nine hours in the House.

The sweeping bail legislation would change how and if people can be released from jail before their criminal cases are resolved, while they are still legally presumed innocent. The bill would ban the release of those accused of violent crimes unless they had enough cash, as well as restrict charitable groups’ ability to pay to get people out of jail.

While the two Democrats on the Senate committee supported Senate Bill 6, House Democrats down the hall spoke out strongly against the identical House Bill 2, arguing it would lead to mass detention disproportionately affecting people of color, and it would create an overreliance on money in Texas’ pretrial system that is unfair to people who are poor. Both chambers of the Texas Legislature have a Republican majority.

During the hearings, the Republican bill authors, crime victims and their supporters argued new bail laws are needed to keep dangerous people behind bars before their trials, pointing to rising crime rates and numerous examples of defendants accused of violent crimes having been released from jail on bond and then accused of new crimes.

Bill supporters have also fought against the increase in courts releasing defendants on personal bonds, which don’t require them to have cash to get out of jail but can include restrictions like GPS ankle monitoring or routine drug testing.

“SB 6 is legislation which is really a direct response to the increase in violent and habitual offenders being released on personal bonds along with low-cash bonds,” State Sen. Joan Huffman, a Houston Republican and author of the bill said Saturday. “We have failed our communities, we have failed our citizens, definitely we have failed the victims, and it’s time to do something about it.”

House Democrats and civil rights advocates opposing the legislation took aim at the bills’ continued reliance on cash bail, noting that it primarily penalizes low-income people.

“What does ability to post a cash bond, how does that make a community safe?” questioned state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, who leads the House Criminal Justice Reform Caucus. “The bill pushes more people into the cash bail system by precluding their ability to have a personal bond in a laundry list of situations.”

See here and here for my blogging about this from the regular session. Note that these hearings were held before the voter suppression bill hearings, which is one reason why those went so late – they started late, too. You should also read Scott Henson’s testimony before the committee, in which he suggests that this will have a big negative effect on rural counties. You know how I feel about this, and you also know that if the Republican majority is determined to pass this, they can and they will. So let me remind you of this:

For years, civil rights groups and federal courts nationwide and in Texas have scrutinized bail systems’ reliance on cash. In Harris and Dallas counties, federal courts ordered changes to bail practices ruled unconstitutional because they led to the systematic detention of people who haven’t been convicted of a crime simply because they were poor.

In an ongoing federal lawsuit in Houston, civil rights attorneys pointed to the case of Preston Chaney, a 64-year-old man who caught the coronavirus in the Harris County jail and died. He’d been kept in jail for months, accused of stealing lawn equipment and meat from a garage. If he’d been able to pay about $100, he could have walked out of jail shortly after his arrest.

Whatever gets passed here is going to wind up in the federal courts, and the state is likely to lose. Not that the Republicans are concerned about that – these bills are about primaries, not policies. This whole session, and most of the regular session, were about primaries. I’m sure you can guess what my prescription for getting less of this in the future is.

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7 Responses to Bad bail bill 2.0

  1. The local violent crime rate is soaring, with homicides alone up over 35% compared to last year. One of the reasons for the rise in violent crime appears to be the turnstile spinning away at the Harris County Jail. Law enforcement officers are doing their jobs, investigating crimes and making felony arrests. Unfortunately, some of the relatively new (Democrat) Criminal District Court judges have been repeatedly releasing violent, felony defendants from jail on low or PR bonds, essentially ignoring the threat to the public. These felony defendants usually have extensive criminal histories, repeatedly victimizing local communities. By blatantly disregarding public safety, these liberal, progressive judges have played right into the hands of the Republicans. To address the reckless behavior of the judges, moderate Democrats are now forced to support the Republican bail bond reform bill.

    Low and PR bail bonds made sense for non-violent, misdemeanor defendants. I strongly supported that effort. By repeatedly extending these low / PR bonds to violent, felony defendants however, these liberal, progressive judges have gone too far. I am concerned these judges could drag down the entire Harris County Democratic ticket next year.

    For more information, please read my post on

  2. Manny says:

    The reason for the high crime rate is that the Republicans are racists.

    The above makes as much sense as what the previous poster wrote.

    He is spouting the same bs that all Republicans are spouting. Not all states or counties in Texas are doing the so-called easy bond route, and crime is also up there? Why?

  3. Jason Hochman says:

    Many thoughts about this. Yes, bond practices around the country have been abused by the government for years. When I worked for a sheriff department, the bond included a surety (basically pay a 10% insurance to a bondsman) and a cash bond (refundable if not convicted). The cash bond was a down payment on fines, fees, probation costs, court costs, etc. It seemed to me unconstitutional to make someone pay fines and costs up front for a charge of which he had not been convicted or entered a guilty plea.

    The way that it worked is that an arrested person would sit in a jail for over a year, unable to afford the cash bail. As the court case moved very slowly, the county attorney eventually offered the person a plea deal for “time served.” Of course the inmate jumped to take it, they would be getting out in three weeks and putting it all behind them. But now, they were a convicted felon, ineligible for public housing and assistance programs, barred from many jobs, and so they came right back.

    Now, I don’t know why everything is now decried as racist, because, I saw this happen to people of all races. It happened, in fact, to white supremacists, too. It is a political tool, for county attorneys to look “tough on crime” for convicting the bad guys. This is why we need voter suppression. Most people, having never worked for a sheriff, don’t see this process, but they vote, unaware of the truth, perhaps erroneously condemning policies as racist because the sound of racism is a dog whistle that has whistled into their pliant ears.

    Also, crime is rampantly out of control, and they don’t care. Just wear your mask! It stops bullets and knife blades! Stay safe. It is correct that crime has gone up in counties not doing the turnstile bond, so I would agree that not all of the cause of the rising crime is the easy bond. Not sure why nobody has done a study of this.

  4. Lobo says:


    Mr. Summerlin,

    I remember Odus Evbagharu telling Kuff in the posted interview (as a candidate for chair at the time) that he didn’t think the party leadership should endorse — or even vet — Democratic primary candidates, and should instead merely process their paperwork.  Correct me if I am wrong.

    But endorsements you promise on your website, which features the name “Harris County Democrats” in the top caption, suggesting that it is the party’s official website and voice of the Harris County Party (although the copyright notice in the footer suggests otherwise). So, what exactly is your relationship with the Harris County Democratic Party? Some might think you are an imposter.

    That said, you should be commended for going to the trouble of weighing in on actual issues where others merely peddle platitudes. The airing of alternative views promises to enrich the debate, to the extent there is one.

    So let’s get down to it. In your comment above you denounce “those liberal progressive judges” and blame them for an increase in local homicides. This broadside merits a critical response.


    First of all, let’s point out that the basic tenet of the criminal justice system is individual responsibility of the person that commits the crime. So, if a homicide takes place, a judge is rarely the responsible party. What is your philosophical or moral – or legal — justification for blaming judges for the crimes of defendants whose criminal cases get assigned to them? It seems rather preposterous. 

    Second, you condemn an entire group — “these liberal, progressive judges” — but offer no  definition of what is liberal or progressive in the context of judicial office. Keep in mind that all judges are sworn to uphold the same constitution and the same law, broadly speaking.  If your labeling is based on the “liberal” bail practices you attribute to them, your argument becomes circular, but also misleading because the term “liberal” is generally understood to denote political ideology.

    Or are you suggesting that being elected as a Democratic candidate to a Harris County district court bench equates to liberal and progressive? 

    And how would that play out in the Civil Division, where bail is rarely if ever an issue? Is a civil judge a “liberal” when he or she routinely grants successive trial continuances without a showing of good cause, or routinely denies motions to sanctions a misbehaving opposing counsel? What about judges that don’t issue rulings at all, and hope that the parties will get tired of waitiong and settle? Would that be liberal or conservative? Or smart docket-management-by-procrastination-and-attrition, or just plain lazy, if not a dereliction of duty?  

    But you also express doubt whether they are all equally “guilty”. To wit:

     “Unfortunately, *some* of the relatively new (Democrat) Criminal District Court judges have been repeatedly releasing violent, felony defendants from jail on low or PR bonds, essentially ignoring the threat to the public.”  [emphasis added]

    I count more than 20 in all. See here:
    (And that doesn’t include the misdemeanor judges.) 

    Which ones do you hold responsible for the increase in the murder rate in Harrs County, and deem worthy of being booted off the bench? 

    And where is the comparative evidence that would allow the public to verify which judges are guilty of what you accuse them of? Do you have any statistical data about how these many different judges handle bail decisions so as to substantiate your rather serious allegations? Or is your global conclusion based on anecdotal observation only, or news media consumption?  


    Your prescription is to get rid of judges whom you hold responsible for the increase in crime, and you make that the centerpiece of your pitch.

    Assuming arguendo that this is an appropriate response at all (i.e. that criminal judges are just like politicians and should be held accountable by voters for how they do their job of administer justice), the next elections aren’t until 2022, and newly elected replacement judges would not take office until January 2023. In other words, your proposed solution to the problem you bewail cannot have any effect in the short run. Which raises the inference that your agenda is something other than an immediate improvement of public safety. — What is it? 

    As for addressing the identified problem instanter, better approaches are available: 

    How about (1) speeding up the backlog of cases that has built up due to last year’s pandemic restrictions by hiring more visiting judges, thereby shortening the time defendants either languish in county jail or are out on bond (given members of the latter group less time to commit additional crimes while out on bond);  (2) giving trial scheduling preference to the most serious violent crimes, and (3) perhaps also include prior criminal/conviction history of defendants in the trial assignment prioritization formula for jury trials even if criminal history cannot be considered at trial in the guilt/innocence determination phase. 

    Would any of that make sense? 

    And what about prosecutors? Couldn’t they speed up the pipeline to state jail by offering plea bargains on better terms (lesser charges, shorter jail terms, but jail terms nonetheless)?

  5. Lobo,

    You made a good point. I’m just a retired, moderate Democrat who enjoys operating a political blog and proffering my opinions/solutions to pressing issues. To avoid any potential confusion, I added to the front page of my blog, “While the administrator is a moderate Democrat, this blog is independently operated and not affiliated with any political party.” Still, I love the inclusive, “big tent” aspects of the Democratic Party and how it tries to represent, and assist, everyday people (not just the wealthy and corporations). To that end, I do have a donation page on my website linked to the official Harris County Democratic Party.

    As far as the issue of local Criminal (not Civil or Family) District Judges repeatedly releasing violent felony defendants from jail on multiple bonds, the Channel 26 “Breaking Bond” series has documented those incidents, and the consequences, better than I ever could. The applicable courts and/or judges were identified in those reports. Hey, it’s not just me. I believe local, moderate Democratic officials, such as Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, DA Kim Ogg, and Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, as well as the non-profit “Crime Stoppers” organization, have also publicly expressed their concerns about violent felony defendants being released from jail on multiple bonds.

    I agree we need faster case processing, greater use of plea bargains, etc. Still, none of these goals will change the fact that local judges are repeatedly releasing violent felony defendants from jail on multiple bonds and disregarding public safety. As the victims stack up, Democrats will continue to lose public support (as well we should). Take care.

  6. Manny says:

    Summerlin, With Democrats, like you, who needs Trump lovers. There is a much better story in the Houston Chronicle.

    Based on what I read and what Judge Hill, who the Trump-loving channel seems to focus on. The problem is that the State and Federal Constitution require that persons not found guilty be allowed bond.

    Hurricane Harry and Covid have made a mess of the courts which has delayed trials.

    Summerlin, I guess you have no problem with ignoring the state and federal constitution?

    The state is trying to change the law that requires that people be given bonds.

    At least Lobo identifies the problems and offers some solutions, rather than blame the Democrats.

  7. Manny,

    I’m in favor of low and PR bonds for non-violent, misdemeanor defendants. To reduce crowding in the county jail, I even support low or PR bonds for non-violent defendants charged with a State Jail Felony (SJF), as most SJF cases are for drug possession (not manufacture or distribution). To address the underlying addiction issues, most SJF defendants actually need a good substance abuse treatment program, not more jail time.

    As far as violent felony defendants, especially those who re-offend while out on bond and those with extensive criminal histories, the Criminal District Judges have a lot of discretion when setting bail amounts and COULD, under existing law, set high bonds. Instead, some (Democratic) judges have been repeatedly releasing these violent, felony defendants on low or PR bonds and our local communities are paying the price.

    As far as being a Trump lover, I am, in fact, a proud Democrat. As Democrats, we need to take the lead on public safety. If we don’t, the Republicans will. Remember, crime victims are voters, too, and they are in every neighborhood. The high violent crime rate must come down. Let’s not kill the messenger.

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