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Harris County lawsuit challenges high bail in nonviolent arrests

Those who are familiar with Harris County’s court system see it happen regularly: after a felony arrest, costly bail is imposed on a suspect with little or no financial resources. The suspect is then held in jail for weeks or months awaiting trial.

A recently filed lawsuit seeks to change this court dynamic. The suit argues that Harris County is holding people simply because they do not have the cash to make bail, while people who have the cash are able to get out of custody and resume their lives.

Defendants in the case are Harris County and Sheriff Ed Gonzalez.

The lawsuit states that nearly 70 percent of felony arrests here are for nonviolent offenses. Because 90 percent of those in the jail are being held on felony charges, a change in bail policy would have an enormous impact on incarceration costs.

Justice advocates say that in the past decade, 125 people have died in Harris County Jail while awaiting trials. That total includes a woman who committed suicide earlier this month after she couldn’t make her $3,000 bail.

The three plaintiffs in the lawsuit were all arrested for nonviolent crimes, the Houston Chronicle reported. All three remain in jail because they just don’t have the money to make bail.

A 61-year-old Houston man was arrived for drunk driving. Bail was set at $25,000, though the court did not assess his ability to make bail or determine if jail was the best option.

A 51-year-old Houston man arrested on a drug possession charge likewise cannot make his $15,000 bail – again no determination was made of his ability to pay it.

The third plaintiff is an 18-year-old high school student arrested for drug possession with the intent to deliver. His bail was set at $30,000.

Let’s hope that a more just bail system can be implemented so that fewer innocent people will feel pressured to strike deals that result in their release from custody.

Those facing felony charges should contact a cost-effective criminal defense attorney to discuss their best legal options.

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