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Discord over deal to settle Houston-area bail lawsuit

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Discord over deal to settle Houston-area bail lawsuit

HOUSTON (AP) – Both legislation enforcement officers and advocates in Texas’ most populous county say they assist efforts to change a bail system that was deemed unconstitutional by a federal choose and stored individuals arrested for lesser offenses languishing in ja-il.

But there’s deep disagreement on whether or not a proposed settlement to a lawsuit over bail for misdemeanor defendants in Harris County, the place Houston is positioned, is one of the best answer.

Criminal justice reform advocates and a few public officers say the court-supervised plan, known as a consent decree, will finish insurance policies that stored poor individuals and minorities locked up solely as a result of they couldn’t afford to pay a number of hundred {dollars} for his or her launch and coerced many to plead responsible simply to get out of ja-il.

But Harris County’s prime prosecutor, together with Houston’s police chief, Texas’ legal professional common and others say the consent decree doesn’t do sufficient to defend crime victims and can endanger public security by liberating violent criminals.

Final arguments for and in opposition to the plan are scheduled for Monday earlier than U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal, who will subject a remaining ruling later. She has already given it preliminary approval.



“The settlement is going to keep tens of thousands of people out of cages every year going forward, which is a really exciting prospect,” stated Elizabeth Rossi, an legal professional with Civil Rights Corps, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that sued Harris County.

The plan stems from a 2016 lawsuit, which is analogous to ones filed in different states and is part of a broader push within the U.S. for adjustments to bail methods.

The nation’s first legislation eliminating bail for suspects awaiting trial was set to go into impact in California this month, however it’s on maintain till voters subsequent yr determine whether or not to approve it. Others states which have handed bail reforms in recent times embrace Delaware and New Hampshire. In Chicago, adjustments to the Cook County bail system have prompted criticism from the town’s mayor and police chief.

Harris County initially spent hundreds of thousands of {dollars} preventing the lawsuit. But after a Democratic wave in November 2018 that ushered in new county management, together with new misdemeanor judges, either side labored on a settlement.

In February, the misdemeanor judges put new guidelines in place stating that almost all misdemeanor defendants could be launched on private bonds that require no cash be paid, normally inside a number of hours after being taken into custody.

Under the brand new guidelines, individuals dealing with sure varieties of misdemeanors, together with home violence and a second or subsequent driving whereas intoxicated cost, wouldn’t be routinely launched and should seem earlier than a Justice of the Peace choose.

The consent decree would solidify these new guidelines.

The settlement additionally requires the county to present assets to assist guarantee misdemeanor defendants make their court docket hearings, together with a textual content message reminder system.

But Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg and different legislation enforcement businesses allege the brand new guidelines have resulted in violent people being launched and that this has carried over into felony instances.

“We are all for bail reform as long as it protects the public,” Ogg stated.

At a information convention Tuesday, Ogg, Houston police Chief Art Acevedo and others pointed to some current instances wherein individuals have been kil-led or injured by defendants in misdemeanor and felony instances who have been freed on bond by a choose.

One case officers have highlighted entails a suburban Houston man who’s accused of fatally stabbing his pregnant spouse in August after being launched on a misdemeanor assault cost.

Acevedo has usually taken to Twitter to criticize low or private bonds for “serial violent offenders,” saying in a May 21 tweet that the “actions of some members of the judiciary is placing our community at risk.”

Franklin Bynum, one of many Harris County misdemeanor judges who helped settle the bail lawsuit, replied to Acevedo with a tweet saying that “opponents of reform use the same playbook every time, trying to look at a single case when the numbers overwhelmingly support that people do appear for court, that public safety is improved dramatically when we scale back the old coercive plea mill you fed.”

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Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at www.twitter.com/juanlozano70

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