Misdemeanor court judges in Houston, Texas, appealed to a Fifth Circuit panel on Tuesday to scrap judicially–imposed bail reform, which they claim has caused a spike in people failing to appear in court, .
In a , fourteen Harris County criminal court judges allege that U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal compromised public safety when she ordered the county to release poor misdemeanor defendants from jail. Since Judge Rosenthal’s preliminary injunction took effect in June 2017, the county’s failure-to-appear rates have “skyrocketed,” the judges say.
In the spring of 2017, Rosenthal found that Harris County’s bail system violated the due process and equal protection rights of indigent defendants by favoring those who can afford to pay to get out of jail. She issued an injunction that she then narrowed in July after a Fifth Circuit panel ruled that even though the Harris County bail system is unconstitutional, her order amounted to an impermissible automatic right to pretrial release for misdemeanor defendants.
Bail reform has been gaining traction nationwide in recent years. Varying degrees of reform have been implemented in New Jersey, Alaska, Maryland, and New Orleans, and since January 2016, federal class action lawsuits have been filed in Dallas, Galveston, and Lafayette, Louisiana, challenging county bail systems.
But the case in Houston demonstrates that strong opposition remains to the elimination of cash bail.
Alec Karakatsanis, the founder of the Washington, D.C. nonprofit firm Civil Rights Corps and the lead attorney challenging the bail system in Harris County, rejected claims that Rosenthal’s initial injunction endangered public safety. He said that the county has provided no evidence that people released on cash bond are more likely to show up for court than those released pretrial on unsecured personal bonds.
In fact, he said, pretrial detention increases failure-to-appear rates and the likelihood a defendant will commit crimes in the future.
The judges in the case did not say when they would rule on the emergency motion to stay.