The bail bond is an integral part of the criminal justice because it is just not possible to keep all accused persons in detention until completion of the trial where they are found guilty and sentenced or pronounced innocent and set free. The bail bond involves the accused submitting a financial bond, which will lapse if he/she does not show up for the court proceedings.
However, some parts of Texas have come under the scanner for setting bonds so high that it becomes impossible for the accused to post bail and avoid detention. A federal judge recently declared the Harris County bail system to be unconstitutional, which has prompted Dallas county commissioners to initiate steps to revamp the system.
It is expected that those accused of crimes and facing detention will find it within their financial reach to post bail and avoid detention. An excessively-strict bail bond regime in Dallas is ironic considering there was a time when the Dallas County Pre-trial Release program was criticized for being too lenient and for allowing detainees to post bail at excessively-low bonds.
In the article Battle of Bonds published in December 1989, https://www.dmagazine.com/publications/d-magazine/1989/december/battle-of-the-bonds/, Professional Bail Agent of Dallas called for revamp of a bond system that allowed detainees to get out of jail for as low as $20 and a signature.
Then, Dallas County calling for changes to bail bond system sought a 72-hour waiting period before the detainee could use the county bond system. However, this proposal was shot down by the County Commissioner who opined that the State justice system was not obliged to help bail bond agents stay in business.
The era of getting bail for just $50 seems too good to be true at a time when detainees in Texas just find it impossible to post bail. An individual falsely accused of felony assault ended up spending 360 days in jail simple because he could not afford bail set at $40,000 . To add insult to injury, the charge was dropped after close to year, which meant he could walk free after being detained for absolutely no fault of his.
The Federal judge’s ruling that held Harris County’s bail system to be unconstitutional has finally prompted authorities to introduce much-needed changes to the system. Commissioners now plan to shift from a resource-centric to a risk-centric approach.
Now, the amount of bail that the accused will be required to post will depend on his/her likelihood to avoid submitting to the criminal proceedings. A person who is a low-risk detainee will no longer be required to post a very high bail to enjoy freedom again, irrespective of his/her financial resources. Conversely, a high bail bond will be restricted to those who are most-likely to abscond or otherwise try to obstruct court procedure and proceedings.
Another change that is set to be introduced is that Dallas County shall conduct indigency assessments before the bond is set. Currently, whether a person is indigent or not comes up for consideration after the bond amount has been set, which reduces the utility of the assessment to zero. The bail amount is not reduced even if the assessment finds that the accused is indigent and is just not going to be in a position to post bail.
Further, the indigency assessment will be accompanied with an assessment of the mental health of the accused to determine his/her likelihood to jump bail. An individual with low mental risk and limited financial resources will, under the new system, be treated differently as compared to a high-risk individual.
The process of determining bond will now be done by a pre-trial release director who will be assisted by more staff members for monitoring pre-trial release candidates. While Dallas is unlikely to return to a system where bond could be posted for as low as $50, people are unlikely to spend years in jail just because they could not afford to post bail.