Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Report: Providing counsel at bail hearings would lessen Harris County jail costs

A new report from the Texas Fair Defense Project makes the case for providing appointed counsel to indigent defendants at bail hearings to reduce unwarranted pretrial detention. Harris County, in particular, spends nearly a quarter-million dollars per day to lock up defendants who've not yet been convicted and are awaiting trial. Find TFDP's press release announcing the new publication below the jump.
New Report Makes Case for Providing Defense Lawyers at Harris County Bail Hearings in Order to Reduce Costs of Unnecessary Pretrial Detention

AUSTIN, TX – The Texas Fair Defense Project today released a report that details how Harris County’s reliance on bail schedules, limited use of personal bonds, and practice of conducting bail hearings without the participation of defense counsel lead to the unnecessary pretrial detention of poor people solely because they cannot afford financial bail.

In the report, Depenalizing Poverty: A Proposal for Improving Harris County Bail Policies, TFDP recommends that defense counsel be provided to poor people at initial bail hearings in order to reduce the personal and financial costs associated with incarcerating people who have not been convicted of a crime. Almost 60% of the inmates in the Harris County Jail are awaiting trial. Detaining these individuals costs Harris County taxpayers over $234,000 per day.

Under the Texas Constitution, almost every person accused of a crime is entitled to have a judge set bail to secure their appearance in court while charges are pending. Individuals who cannot afford to post bail in the amount set in their case remain incarcerated prior to trial, even if they are charged with a relatively minor offense and pose little risk to the community.

Although federal and state law requires courts to consider an individual’s financial resources when setting the amount of bail, in order to avoid the pretrial detention of people solely because they are poor, magistrates in Harris County set bail using a standardized bail schedule that does not consider an individual’s ability to pay. Bail is set at hearings where poor people appear alone in front of a magistrate and prosecutor, before a defense lawyer is appointed to represent them.

“Defense attorneys can help arrested individuals understand the factors relevant to a bail determination and present evidence supporting a lower bail amount or release on personal bond,” said Susanne Pringle, TFDP Staff Attorney and author of the report.

In a study conducted in Baltimore, defendants with attorneys at their bail hearings were more than twice as likely to be released on personal bond than were defendants without attorneys. The average bail for represented defendants who did not qualify for personal bond was $500 less than the average bail set for defendants who didn’t have defense counsel.

“Having a defense lawyer at your bail hearing can determine whether you keep your freedom while you face a criminal accusation, or spend months in jail before you’ve been convicted of any crime,” said Pringle.

Pretrial detention has consequences long after the pretrial period.  People who can’t afford to post bond may lose their jobs, housing, and custody of their children. Multiple studies also show that individuals who are detained prior to trial are more likely to be convicted and, if convicted, to receive longer sentences than individuals who can afford to post bond.

“People in Harris County are being convicted of crimes because they're poor,” said Andrea Marsh, TFDP’s Executive Director. “They’re in pretrial detention because they're poor, and they're more likely to be convicted because in they’re in pretrial detention.”
The Texas Fair Defense Project (TFDP) is a nonprofit organization that works to improve the fairness of Texas’s criminal courts and ensure that all Texans have access to justice. TFDP focuses on improving the public defense system and challenging policies that create modern-day debtors’ prisons filled with poor people who cannot afford to pay commercial bond fees and post-conviction fines and costs.

TFDP won a U.S. Supreme Court victory in Rothgery v. Gillespie County, a 2008 decision holding that the constitutional right to counsel attaches at the initial bail hearing held within 48 hours of an individual’s arrest. TFDP also recently settled a civil rights lawsuit that challenged practices that denied poor people the right to counsel in pretrial criminal proceedings in Williamson County, after receiving a favorable ruling from the Texas Supreme Court in Heckman v. Williamson County.

A copy of Depenalizing Poverty: A Proposal for Improving Harris County Bail Policies can be obtained at http://bit.ly/1j5uhZc.

Additional information about TFDP is available at www.texasfairdefenseproject.org.


Anonymous said...

persons arrested have always had the right to counsel - see 6th amendment, so let not color the facts. the real issue is - who is supposed to pay for it - the taxpayer or others. instead of disenfranchising the taxpayer of their hard earned money to pay the fees charged by the membership of the lawyer industrial complex (the real beneficiary of mandated counsel), the state should mandate that the lawyer industrial complex fund it via dues, chartiable contributions, fund raising, pro bono, other, etc... including even a special lawyer tax if need be. why - because it is a major CONFLICT OF INTEREST - to have the same gov't thats arrests you, jails you, prosecutes you and judge's you - to also defend you. in fact its outright - WRONG. lawyers/judges have the uncanny ability to overlook judicial CONFLICTS OF INTEREST - especially when it comes down to sucking money from the taxpayers into their own pockets. all defense should be provided by private lawyers and funded by private funds - not the taxpayer. defense counsel should never be involved with the gov't in any way. yes - defendants ought to have a lawyer at a bail hearing (ironically to protect the defendant from the gov't judge), and the defense lawyer needs to be mutually exclusive in any/every way from the gov't - to eliminate CONFLICT OF INTEREST. if need be - special tax all lawyer income to fill the funding gap and mandate the lawyer industrial complexx to provide the private manpower. do not let the lawyers get any deeper into the pockets of the taxpayers.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"the real issue is - who is supposed to pay for it"

No, the issue is at what point in the process people who are indigent get counsel appointed? If fewer people get bail b/c they don't have lawyers, then the county gets "deeper into the pockets of the taxpayers" to pay for jail costs. So damned if you do, damned if you don't.

As for "all defense should be provided by private lawyers and funded by private funds," your beef is with the US Supreme Court and Gideon v. Wainwright. You may as well be complaining that the sun rises in the east and you'd prefer the north - you'd have about as much chance of getting what you want.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Grits, seems like there are multiple issues all tied up in one Report regarding issues we already knew about for decades. Just ask my poor ass.

As you are well aware of, (others may not be) Mr. Rob Fickman has addressed the issue of Harris County and the needless detention of humans (poor) in an Open Letter to the 15 Misd. Court Judges. He addressed the issue of Bail. He addressed the issue of jail over crowding as an effect. He addressed the issue of Judges being the ones that can self fix it by running courts the right way. Yet the report overlooked his one-of-a-kind initiative. For some reason they overlooked the ungodly Plea Bargain rate and its relationship to those 'not' being released. And then there is the issue of Probationers (arrested on unrelated charges) that do not qualify for bail, being left out. Maybe next time.

It's always been up to us (the taxpayers & voters) regarding issues we fund in the art of fighting crime including nailing down the 'exact' time in which to appoint, and 'exactly' who gets the Tab. Since timing is tied to every other aspect of the Law, you'd think the most important time frame regarding the front end would be a no brainier and not a running joke. Welcome to Texas.

The D.A's. Offices (lawyers) set this system up with full approval of the Judges, Police Depts. & Bail buddies, as they practiced it out in the open (sometimes filming it) and the Criminal Defense niche (hired & appointed alike) knew all about it (easy bread & easier butter). No 'Report' is going to change the old school ways of the old school fat cats when the estimated quarter of mill per day is being flung around without any public protest. We have to make 'em.

Anonymous said...

"TFDP won a U.S. Supreme Court victory in Rothgery v. Gillespie County, a 2008 decision holding that the constitutional right to counsel attaches at the initial bail hearing held within 48 hours of an individual’s arrest."

Grits, (or anyone in the know) with a victory being celebrated regarding the decision above, would we be correct in assuming that Harris County (any county) that fails to follow it, are operating Kangaroo Courts and any and all convictions obtained without counsel present would qualify as being - Wrongful?
Thanks in advance.