Texas Ruling Limits Bail in Misdemeanor Cases
A recent ruling, written by Chief Judge Lee H. Rosenthal of the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas, ordered Harris County courts to stop counties from the practice of detaining misdemeanor defendants who cannot afford to pay bail.
The ruling, entered on April 28, 2017, is part of a civil rights lawsuit against the county, which started when a woman arrested for driving without a license spent more than two days in jail when she could not post $2,500 in bail.
In the ruling, Judge Rosenthal wrote:
“Harris County’s policy is to detain indigent misdemeanor defendants before trial, violating equal protection rights against wealth-based discrimination and violating due process protections against pretrial detention without proper procedures or an opportunity to be heard. … This case is not easy. Institutions charged with safeguarding the public have an extraordinary trust and a difficult task. The difficulty and importance of the task cannot defeat an equally important public trust, which the court and the defendants share—to enforce the Constitution. The court has done its best to recognize and work toward both.”
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