New Year, New Harris County Bail System
And it’s a good one ….
Super Bowl LI: Good decisions gone bad.
In case you live in a bubble, on February 5, 2017, Houston will host the 51st NFL Super Bowl. While the game will attract millions of worldwide viewers, it is the events leading up to the game that will draw the most attention. Houstonia Magazine has been running a feature, highlighting everything you need to know in preparation for Super Bowl LI. Perhaps more important than the parties is understanding what to do when the wheels come off during one. So if you or your mate’s motto is “bad decisions make for good stories”, keep reading.
First Quarter: 5th Amendment.
You didn’t plan on being out long, but you bumped into Johnny Football. Before long, you’re dropping your flag football college intramural stats. Next thing you know someone in his entourage hands you a shot. And another. And another. Time flies when you are partying with JFF and now it’s 2:00 AM. Uber is running 5X their normal rate and, besides, you feel invincible. You hop in your car to head home. It’s just a few blocks away, but valet turned your auto lights off and the eyes of Texas are now staring down upon you. Red and blue flashing lights appear in your rear-view mirror. Two officers approach your driver side window. “You had anything to drink tonight?”
You have the right to remain silent, but you also need the ability. Know that anything you say will be used against you. Remember two lines: “Am I free to leave?” If the answer is “yes”, leave. If the answer is “no”, then “I’d be happy to cooperate with my attorney present.” No more, no less.
You drop $250 for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to attend the Playboy Party. You’ve fallen in love eight times tonight, but the ninth time it’s for real. That is until some bro slides in on your wife-to-be. Words turn to insults. Insults turn to shoving. Unknown to your adversary, you’ve been trained by Miyagi Dojo and unleash a crane kick in the middle of the crowd. Of course, crane kicks are better suited for 1980s Hollywood, and yours lands on the face of wife-to-be number nine. “That’s assault Brotha” and the men in blue have taken notice. Walking away in cuffs, you get the attention of your buddy, “get me outta here.”
There are 2 ½ options for bail in Harris County:
(1) Post a Surety Bond: Contact a bonding agency or Harris County criminal defense attorney who will cover the bond for a fee of approximately 10-15% of the total bond, So if the bond was $20,000, you would pay $2000 to the bondsman and he would cover the total bond. The $2000 fee is non-refundable.
(2) Post a Cash Bond: If you post a Cash bond, you will pay 100% of the bond amount. For example, if the Bond is $500, you pay $500. If the bond is $10,000, you would pay $10,000. Once the person’s case is disposed of or complete, the amount posted will be refunded.
To post a cash bond:
- Go to the Jail Public Information Inquiry or call the Jail Information Line at 713-247-5400 / 713-837 – 0311 and type in the necessary information.
- Print the search result page or write down the person’s location, arrest number, name and date of birth.
- For any offense greater than a Class B Misdemeanor take cash along with your photo ID to 49 San Jacinto, Houston, TX 77002 (phone: 713-755-8040). Be prepared to wait in line.
(1/2) Hope for a Personal Recognizance (PR) Bond: a PR bond is where the person is released upon his or her own promise to appear. These bonds are reserved for low-level, low-risk persons with no criminal history. Neither a bondsman nor a cash bond is needed for release. While still unique in Harris County (hence the ½), these bonds are gaining traction.
Third Quarter: Appearing For Court
Bail has been posted, you have been processed and 6-8 hours later you are saying goodbye to your new jailhouse friends. You are dazed. You are confused. You are tired and you are hungry. If anything, keep track of your bond papers. On them, you will find your court number, court date, and court time. In Harris County, the court date could be as soon as the next day. Don’t be late for court, your bond may be revoked. Time to lawyer up.
Fourth Quarter: Odds and Ends
Phone Call: In jail, there will be phone access. If you receive a collect call, answer it and keep it simple. These phone calls are recorded. If the person in jail is calling your cell phone, you’ll need to set up an account at www.GTL.net in order for them to get through to you.
Vehicle Towed: If the person was arrested for an incident involving a car, it was likely towed away. Call the Wrecker tow line, 713-308-8580, or go to houstonpolice.Org, Find my Towed Car, where you can search by license plate and/or VIN number.
If you learn there is no bond (i.e. the person is on probation for another case, on bond for another case, violent charges, or the person is considered a flight-risk) contact a Harris County Criminal Defense Attorney, who will get a bond set (same advice applies if an extremely high bond is set).
Harris County Criminal Justice Map:
Barbed wire, watchtowers, and guards.
Unjust punishment and dehumanization.
Propaganda and financial incentives.
Confinement without trial.
Many Americans living in the United States during the 1930s and early 1940s, didn’t think much about Germany. Little weight was given to secondhand reports. Confirmed reports were thought to be exaggerated and beyond-belief. It wasn’t until 1945 that Americans began to grasp the devastation left behind. By then it was too late. Millions had perished.
Unfortunately, we are often too late. Philosophical studies have concluded human beings are overwhelmingly cooperative. Our need to cooperate can lead us to turn a deaf ear on issues that don’t immediately impact us. Out of sight, out of mind. It isn’t until we are personally affected that we find ourselves in disbelief. Desperate for a solution to unjust punishment.
But, this isn’t about philosophy and this isn’t about the Third Reich, We aren’t going back in time. We don’t have to because all of the above can be found right here in the American justice system; the Texas justice system; the Harris County Justice system.
The Rise of Bail: The Beginning
Bail is an old-school tool originally used to assist in ensuring a person accused of a crime would appear for court. The theory was if a person put up their own money they were more likely to show up. Seems logical, although an outstanding warrant also seems logical.
Eventually, “entrepreneurs” discovered there were financial incentives tied to bond and formed bonding companies. A bonding company guarantees the bond for a non-refundable fee around 10% of the bond amount (although some bonding companies have been known to charge as much as 100% of the bond). If the accused fails to appear the bonding company is on the hook. Meaning, the original use of bail doesn’t even apply in today’s system.
When a person is arrested, they appear in front of a magistrate who assesses bail. Harris County magistrates rubber-stamp the amount from a bail schedule. While Texas law allows for personal recognizance bonds (zero money down), they are only used 7-8% of the time in Harris County. Once the bail amount is set, the accused (or accused’s family) is responsible for getting the necessary funds together to post bail.
In Harris County it is estimated up to 77% of the jail is made up of persons accused (emphasis on accused) of crime and
awaiting trial. Many of these accusations (emphasis on accusations) are low-level, non-violent offenses. Those unable to afford bail are left to sit. Mass incarceration.
Looking for the quickest exit, jail residents ignore collateral consequences attached to a criminal conviction by pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit. Doing so ensures they can get back to their homes, families, and jobs. It is a primary reason 95% of arrests end with a plea of guilty and is used to keep the court’s docket moving. Confined without trial.
In the last ten years, there have been nearly 200 deaths reported in the Harris County Jails. Knowing 77% of the jail is made up of Houstonians awaiting trial, 150 of those deaths are likely people with no business being in jail at all. These deaths have come at the hands of other inmates, uninhabitable conditions, disease, suicides, understaffed jails, and negligence.
The Axis Powers: Bail and Bail Conditions
The eradication of the presumption of innocence does not end once bail is posted. Certain accusations, carry with them bail conditions. Conditions the Texas Court of Appeals has held are necessary to secure the accused’s presence at trial, the safety of the victim, or the safety of the community. Burson v. State, 202 S.W.3d 423, 425 (Tex. App. – Tyler 2006, no pet.).
Take the real-world example below. One person has been convicted of Driving While Intoxicated and sentenced to a year probation. The other has been arrested for Driving While Intoxicated, posted bond, and been given bond conditions. Neither person has any prior criminal history. Disturbing is the inability to tell the difference.
Progressive leaders and civil right lawyers have recently made a strong push to rid of bail. As a result, many states have turned to personal recognizance bonds for an alternative. While this is a step in the right direction, as bail slowly diminishes pre-trial bond conditions are becoming more prevalent. When one door closes, another opens. Interlock devices, like the example from the DWI above, are cash cows with huge financial incentives.
Assume every person accused of DWI in Texas was ordered to have an interlock device as a condition of bail:
- Number of DWI arrests in Texas in 2015: 65,609
- Average Length of Time DWI is on court’s docket: 3 months
- Avg. Interlock Monthly Maintenance and Calibration Fee: $60
- (Monthly Fee * Docket Length) * # of DWI arrests = Total Interlock Fees.
- ($60 * 3) * 65,609 = $11,809,620.00 a year in interlock fees.
Throw in installation fees and that number grows.For interlock providers and investors business is good. Real good. As long as financial incentives outweigh the true purpose of justice, the system will be flawed. As long as we fail to make a difference, innocent lives will be adversely impacted. The writing is on the wall. Act, before it’s too late.
As long as financial incentives outweigh the true purpose of justice, the system will be flawed. As long as we fail to make a difference, innocent lives will be adversely impacted. The writing is on the wall. Act, before it’s too late. Act, before someone you care about, has their number called. Act, before your number is called.