A Dallas Morning News analysis of more than 16,000 Dallas County felony cases found that those who can afford bail can spend years free while awaiting justice. Posting bail practically guarantees a wait of almost 18 months – often far longer – for a trial. Suspects free on bail are far more likely to see their cases dismissed or downgraded than those who stay in jail before trial. They have a better chance of receiving the lightest form of probation – deferred adjudication – in which a convict’s record is wiped clean upon completion of the probation.
As a case languishes, memories fade, witnesses disappear, evidence gets lost, and detectives retire – all factors in boosting the odds of getting charges dropped or reduced in plea bargains or winning acquittals when a trial date finally arrives. Says Dallas lawyer and former prosecutor Dan Hagood: “Things happen to a case over time. If something bad occurs, generally it benefits the defendant.” Many of the county’s 12 new felony judges and District Attorney Craig Watkins, all Democrats swept into office in November after promising courthouse reforms, say they have inherited a dysfunctional criminal justice system. “I don’t recall it being this big a mess” in the past, said Lena Levario, who was elected in November after also serving as a judge in the 1990s. “We’re on the verge of shutting the jail down.”