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The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Saturday, May 6, 2017

Federal Judge Eliminates Bail for Misdemeanors

In Huston last week, a federal judge enjoined the judges of Harris County, Texas from issuing bond orders for misdemeanors. The judge, in a detailed opinion, found that the bond system disproportionately affected the indigent.

The ruling in the civil rights lawsuit came after 8-days of trial and over 300-plus exhibits. Federal judge Lee Rosenthal found that holding accused misdemeanants on a relatively high bond until resolution of the case violated the equal protection and due process provisions of the U. S. Constitution.

One case featured a working mother charged with driving on a suspended license; her bond was set at $2500. When she was unable to make bond, she spent two weeks in jail while her case resolved, at great hardship to her family and children.

Judge Rosenthal found that the Harris County bond system featured "wealth-based discrimination", and violated due process during the pretrial detention phase of a case.  The civil rights lawyers that brought the case presented statistics supporting their contention that 40% of people charged with misdemeanors wound-up sitting in jail the entire time their case remained pending; in some cases, up to a month.

An interesting feature of the case was that nearly all of the evidence presented came from the county clerk's office; court records like the bond orders and the register of actions indicating whether the accused posted the bond.

Although her injunction is temporary, legal scholars believe the ruling will stand. Depending on how far it goes on appeal, the ruling could set a new constitutional standard in criminal procedure regarding pretrial detention for misdemeanors.

Here in Michigan, we have had a movement to eliminate jail as a sanction for misdemeanants that cannot pay court costs and fines. The Texas case is significant because it deals with detention prior to any conviction or other adjudication.

Post #590
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