Dallas County Bail Practices Suspended by Judge for Constitutional Violations

By October 8, 2018Dallas County Law
judge's gavel

People accused of crimes in Dallas County may soon be paying less to get released from jail thanks to a Federal judge.

Many counties in Texas and across the country use bond schedules when the magistrate judge sets bail for a person who was been arrested for a criminal offense. A bond schedule is essentially a guide to which judges refer when setting a bond. For example, in Dallas County, the bond schedule advises that the standard bond for a DWI 1st, where the arrested person has no criminal history and there are no other factors, should be set at $500. Federal Judge David Godbey has ordered a temporary injunction prohibiting Dallas County magistrate judges from consulting the bond schedule moving forward.

Opponents of the bond schedule argue that magistrate judges who consult them are not considering other bond amounts or alternatives allowing for the arrested person’s release from jail pending the resolution of his or her case(s). Judge Godbey agreed, writing in his decision that that the groups who filed suit would likely win that suit on the merits of their arguments. The judge further stated that the use of bond schedules without considering the arrested person’s ability to pay was a constitutional violation of that person’s right of equal protection under the law. Under the judge’s order, Dallas County magistrate judges must now make individual assessments as to an arrested person’s ability to pay and whether there are alternative conditions that would guarantee that person’s appearance in court.

Under the order, pretrial staff at the Crowley Courts Building must verify an arrested person’s ability to pay bail and explain the process to them. Dallas County must provide the arrested person booked at the Lew Sterrett jail with an individual hearing within 48 hours if a magistrate judge doesn’t not release him or her after they have indicated that he or she cannot afford bail. In addition, pretrial staff must deliver a completed affidavit to the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office in advance of the arrested person’s probable cause hearing attesting that he or she is unable to afford the costs of his or her bail. The ruling will not, however, apply to persons subjected to a hold by another agency, those waiting for a mental health evaluation or those who are deemed to be too dangerous for release back into the general public.

Opponents of the ruling state that the attempt to move judges away from the bond schedule is simply a way to release more people charged with crimes back onto the street and that the move is nothing more than a cost-cutting measure for the city that puts the general public in danger of being inundated with people who belong behind bars due to the crimes they’ve committed. As evidence, they point to statements made by County Judge Clay Jenkins who has stated that if the jail population falls to a certain level, the county could close a tower and save taxpayers $20 million a year. The opponents argue that there are better ways to save the taxpayers money than by releasing people charged with criminal offenses back into the public.

The suit was originally brought by six Dallas County inmates whose bond amounts ranged from $500 to $50,000.

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