The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has concluded that Houston's bail system is unconstitutional. The decision affirms a district court's findings in a class action lawsuit alleging that Harris County's bail bond practices violated the Due Process and Equal Protection rights of indigent defendants
Houston's Problematic Bail Process
The court's opinion paints a detailed picture of Harris County's bail practices. The county's court system routinely set secured bail amounts according a schedule with minimal regard for a defendant's ability to pay.
The results, as found by the district court that issued the preliminary injunction, were stark. Hearings where bail was set and later revised were often delayed or pro forma. Indigent arrestees unable to post bail were effectively detained pretrial with little practical recourse, making them more likely to plead guilty and receive longer sentences. In short, it was a mess.
District Court Enjoined, Fifth Circuit (Mostly) Affirms
The District Court found the county's practices violated the Fourteenth Amendment, specifically depriving indigent defendants of due process, and issued a preliminary injunction requiring the county to modify its bail practices.
ODonnell v Harris County: 5Cir orders modification of injunction against County in class action challenging system of setting bail for indigent misdemeanor arrestees; policies violated due process & equal protection, but injunction was too broad https://t.co/pMJNoakSum-- BAFFC (@BAFFC) February 15, 2018
That was good, but in the Fifth Circuit's opinion not good enough. In a typical appellate move, court agreed with the district court's factual findings, tweaked its legal reasoning as to constitutional violation, and sent the case back down for the district court to come up with a revised injunction.