GOP bail invoice would put Harris County in authorized hazard, Texas senators hear – Houston Public Media
A brand new GOP-backed invoice within the Texas Senate to limit using bail for some defendants would put Harris County susceptible to violating a federal warrant, a senior official testified. county Thursday.
The Texas Senate Jurisprudence Committee held its first listening to on Thursday on Senate Invoice 21, which might make it harder for these beforehand accused of violent offenses to get out of jail.
With a Republican majority on the Jurisprudence Committee and the invoice’s sponsor within the chair, a model of SB 21 is more likely to hit the Senate flooring.
But when it passes with out together with some type of destitute protection reduction, it might pose a significant issue for Harris County, as Colin Cerupan of the Harris County Justice Administration Division testified: The county is at present certain by phrases of a settlement of a landmark case. – O’Donnell v. Harris County – which dominated unconstitutional its use of tortious money bail practices.
“SB 21 would pressure Harris County to violate federal consent decrees, exposing Harris County to expensive litigation, like O’Donnell, which price Harris County taxpayers between $ 60 million and $ 100 million,” he stated. Cepuran stated.
Thursday’s testimony was sharply divided, as opponents and supporters of the GOP-sponsored invoice made their case.
Harris County District Lawyer Kim Ogg testified in help of the invoice, saying that as of 2015, about 3,200 bail offenders have been charged with 6,348 felonies. In 2020, round 10,500 folks on bail have been charged with 18,796 new offenses.
“Judges are supposed by legislation to contemplate two important functions of the bond: the return of the defendant to courtroom to reply costs, and the security of the neighborhood,” Ogg stated. “And it is that second public curiosity that is failing in Houston beneath the present bail system.”
A spread of prosecutors, sufferer advocates and relations of victims have testified in help of the invoice, together with Theresa Seck, whose brother was killed in September 2020.
“As soon as I received that decision that an individual had been arrested, I used to be completely satisfied and relieved,” Seck stated. “However these emotions have been rapidly changed with anger and disbelief after I was knowledgeable that this particular person was on bail and was carrying an ankle monitor on the time he murdered my brother.
However opponents of the invoice have targeted on its lack of safety for indigent defendants. Certainly one of these opponents, Laquita Garcia of the Texas Organizing Challenge, detailed her personal experiences within the legal justice system.
“I spent virtually a yr in jail with out being convicted of a criminal offense and on bail I could not afford to pay,” Garcia stated, “finally ending up with a lawyer appointed by the courtroom that I solely noticed twice throughout that yr, the second time being the day I went earlier than the choose, to be discovered not responsible of the crime for which I had already spent a yr in jail, all time realizing I wasn’t responsible. And I do not. I consider that is actual justice. “
State Senator Joan Huffman, R-Houston, who chairs the committee and wrote SB 21, set the tone for the listening to by acknowledging that the invoice as drafted didn’t handle considerations about rights of indigent defendants who couldn’t afford a money bond.
Huffman hinted that she was open to including such protections.
“I do know the O’Donnell case and the Russell case,” Huffman stated, referring respectively to the lawsuits towards Harris County for torts and bail practices. “I do know there are federal courtroom circumstances which have tried to intercede, and there have been prosecutions. I perceive all of this, and I’ll get round it.
Michael Fields, a former Republican choose within the Harris County Prison Court docket, was one of many first defendants within the O’Donnell lawsuit over the county’s bail practices. However Fields finally sided with the plaintiffs within the case.
Many of the arguments towards bail reform relate to the restriction of non-public commitments. However Fields argued that cracking down on so-called public relations obligations would solely make it more durable for poor defendants to bail out on their very own and do nothing to extend public security.
As proof, Fields pointed to most of the very circumstances raised throughout Thursday’s listening to, by which the committee realized that 72 folks charged with homicide had been launched on bail.
However of these, 93% have been on bail – a money mortgage from a borrower on bail.
“Are you aware what these slaves did to guard the lives of those folks’s family members?” Fields stated. “Nothing.”