Excessive Bail Isn’t Just Unfair—It’s Unconstitutional
One Dallas woman was placed in solitary confinement after failing to pay bail—a $500 charge assessed after a misdemeanor. She sued the county for violating state and federal law. In 2016, Harris County also faced a lawsuit over unfair bail practices. Cash bail can be used to discriminate against those accused, but not convicted of, crimes: The reality of many systems nationwide is that anyone arrested and jailed must either pay or stay.
Increasingly, people cannot afford the prices put on their freedom. The effects of the bail system ripple out; those who cannot afford pre-trial release are more likely to:
- Lose their jobs
- Face separation from their children
- Lose contact with loved ones and support networks
- Be sentenced to jail or prison
If you’ve been accused of a crime, you deserve a fair chance to defend yourself. Excessive bail assessments have been shown to decrease rather than boost justice. If you’ve been quoted an unfair number just to walk free despite the presumption of innocence, we may be able to help.
Texas Bail Reform Helps the Accused Return to Their Lives
After a district judge instructed Dallas county to consider an arrestee’s flight risk when setting bail rather than basing their assessment on predetermined standards, our legislature took up bail reform. Many states have recognized the inherent unfairness of current bail practices.
Aside from resulting in the detention of people who are completely innocent, high bail amounts can drive families to predatory bail bond lenders. New laws give judges leeway to provide more fitting bail. Inducing them to follow the new guidance has proven a bit harder.
Our Broken Bail System
Even last year, after judges were instructed to tailor bail requirements to constituents’ situations, videos showed bail hearings lasting between 15 and 30 seconds. The defendant was given no time to speak, meaning the judge did not even get to hear extenuating circumstances, much less consider them. The new laws requiring a bail hearing within 48 hours of arrest do little good if one party cannot meaningfully participate. Especially for those who don’t have a lawyer to advocate for them, the chance of getting a fair bail remains low.
Is High Bail Unconstitutional?
Excessive bail requirements may violate the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. The disparity between the law and the reality of our criminal justice system has come under fire in multiple court cases, some of which originated in Texas. District and Circuit Courts have agreed high bail may be unconstitutional.
- The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments declare that neither the federal nor state governments may “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Anyone hit with excessive bail may effectively have their freedom curtailed before their trial.
- The Eighth Amendment provides explicit protection against excessive bail, allowing lawyers to directly challenge a court’s decision.
Is There a Right to Bail?
The Eighth Amendment doesn’t explicitly denote that anyone arrested has a right to bail, and the courts have opted for a strict interpretation of the law. A judge is not required to offer a defendant release between their detention and trial. However, this only applies to the most severe cases where a reasonable argument can be made that the defendant’s freedom would endanger others.
A Lawyer Can Help You Request Reduced Bail
Under Texas Code, your lawyer must request a second hearing for reduced bail. The law also lays out a list of limitations the court must follow when assigning a bond. Your lawyer can challenge any violations of these rules:
- Bail cannot be used “as an instrument of oppression”
- A judge must consider both the type of crime and the circumstances surrounding it
- A judge must consider the defendant’s ability to pay the assigned bail
If the court cannot affirm probable cause for the defendant’s arrest, there are further rules they may be pressed on. A lawyer can help you understand how you may be able to negotiate reduced (and reasonable) bail.
No matter what happened, you deserve a strong defender to protect your rights. Contact our team online or call (817) 402-2188 to speak with a lawyer today.