So you want to know why you don’t have bail? It’s possible that you have been to prison twice or you are on a felony probation of some type. Maybe you are charged with Capital Murder? If none of these explanations apply to you, then you are probably confused about why you can’t just go to a bondsman and make bail in your case. Why not? The short answer is, the County Court Judges got sued. Several years ago, some well meaning lawyers sued the County for its bail system on behalf of individuals who could not bail out of jail on the then current system of surety bonds. Under the basic surety bond system, bail would be set automatically and the individual with a warrant could go to the bondsman and do a “walk-through” by posting bond at 49 San Jacinto. This avoided the usual 18-24 wait in jail that accompanied an ordinary arrest.
Unfortunately, not everybody could afford to pay a bondsman and some people stayed in jail while they fought their case, or more likely pled their case to back time in order to get out of jail. This was the basis of the law suit, and as I said, it was well meaning. However, have you ever heard the phrase “the cure is sometimes worse than the illness”?
In order to fix this problem, Harris County ramped up their pre-trial release mechanism. The idea was that people charged with a crime could be released on pre-trial, if they were unable to pay for bail. That seems like a good idea. However, in order to implement this program, the County decided to make everybody get assessed by a magistrate in order to determine what should be the fair bail arrangement. For some reason, this process requires that all filed cases start out at no bail so that a magistrate can make her Solomon-like decision.
Family Assaults in the old days were filed with $50,000 bail amounts so that a magistrate could assess a Magistrate’s Order of Emergency Protection. Once the Order was served, the bail was usually reduced to something more reflective of a misdemeanor case. In those days, before the lawsuit, we would have to go into the assigned County Court and get the MOEP served and bail set before surrendering our clients. This allowed us to do the walk-through. Now, everybody has to do this dance.
I would estimate at least twice a week I have to go in with a client and get bail set so that he can surrender himself. Usually this requires we bring in a bondsman capable of immediately making the bond. We have to tell the Assistant DA we are approaching the judge, then we have to wait to approach the Judge, then we have to wait for the DA to familiarize himself with the case since it isn’t on the docket, and then we have to explain to the Judge the situation, taking up her time when she could be doing something of value.
The irony of this approach is that people who can’t afford lawyers don’t have this option open to them. In effect, the type of person(poor) who the lawsuit was supposed to protect has to either wait to be arrested or surrender himself without bail set. Then he is subjected to at least 24 hours in jail before he gets his magical PR bond.
I guess somebody needs to explain to me why everybody has to suffer with a no-bond, even if they have the means to pay bail. It seems like rather than throwing out the bathwater with the baby in it, the County could have kept its surety bond system in place and simply give PR bonds to those who can prove they are indigent. However, for now the dance continues. The good news is we can fix it for you.