Appeals Court Upholds Ruling Voiding Houston Bail System

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed that Houston’s Harris County unconstitutionally imposes cash bail on poor misdemeanor defendants, but vacated an injunction requiring the county to release them from custody within 24 hours, Courthouse News reports. U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal ruled last year that the county, Texas’ largest, unconstitutionally favored those who can afford cash bail by having magistrates set bail at probable cause hearings with a fee schedule based on the charges.

The appellate panel on Wednesday dialed back Rosenthal’s order for Harris County to release on unsecured personal bonds all misdemeanor defendants who have not had a probable cause hearing within 24 hours of their arrest. Unsecured personal bonds do not require upfront fees. Fifth Circuit Judge Edith Clement Brown advised Rosenthal to expand the deadline by which Harris County must provide probable causing hearings to misdemeanor arrestees from 24 to 48 hours. “We conclude that the federal due process right entitles detainees to a hearing within 48 hours,” Brown wrote. The panel advised Rosenthal to rule that if misdemeanor defendants sign an affidavit stating they cannot pay the preset money bail, and have not been released on an unsecured bond, they are entitled to a hearing before a magistrate within 48 hours of their arrest.

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