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Texas Judge: Court Must Consider Defendant's Ability to Pay Bail

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on September 25, 2018 1:00 PM

In Texas, a federal judge ruled that setting bail without considering a defendant's ability to pay violates equal protection.

It was a good ruling for the defendants, but also yesterday's news. Half a dozen states have all but ended cash bail for the same reason -- it's not fair to poor people.

In the Dallas, Texas case, however, the judge enjoined the county's bail system and waived the bond requirement for misdemeanor defendants. That was new.

Ability to Pay

The problem is that poor people can't afford pre-trial bail and so they sit in jail while they are presumed innocent. Even the U.S. Department of Justice knows this.

In Texas, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals also said it. Houston's bail system is unconstitutional, the appeals court said earlier this year.

That's why it was no big surprise when Judge David Godbey ruled Dallas County unconstitutionally set bail for alleged misdemeanants without considering their ability to pay.

The issue came up when four nonprofits sued the county on behalf of six inmates who had bonds from $500 to $50,000. Godbey granted them a preliminary injunction against the pretrial bail system.

48-Hour Relief

Godbey said judges must give individuals a hearing on their ability to pay within 48 hours or release them. It doesn't apply to defendants who are ineligible for pretrial release.

To enforce the 48-hour timeline, the judge said the county must make a weekly report on bail hearings to the district court. The county must also notify a defendant's attorney and/or next of kin.

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