Thursday, June 11, 2015

On bail, plea bargains and innocence

Proponents of bail abolition this week found succor in several high-profile national media investigations into the topic, starting on Sunday night with HBO's John Oliver:
And of course, issues surrounding bail are at the center of the mess in Waco regarding the Twin Peaks biker shootout, where it appears likely that innocent people were indiscriminately rounded up and jailed on a $1 million bond. Recent Texas Tribune coverage began:
More than three weeks after Waco police arrested 177 bikers following a deadly shootout at a local restaurant, no charges have been filed in the killings, nearly half the bikers remain in jail on unusually high bonds, and more than a few legal experts — including former prosecutors — are starting to wonder what is going on in McLennan County.
Regular readers will recall that McLennan DA Abel Reyna's super-tough plea policies were already causing jail overcrowding and backed up court dockets in Waco. But this episode takes the cake.

The issues surrounding bail, pretrial detention, and underutilized pretrial services programs are long-time fodder for this blog, dating at least to this series focused on Harris County in 2005. I'm glad to see the subject finally receiving wide attention, and hope it keeps up.

Eliminating bail and replacing it with risk-assessment-based decision making and monitoring by pretrial services divisions would reduce jail overcrowding as well as enhance individual rights, since there would be far less disincentive to waive them in order to get out of jail quickly.

A lot of low-level, less serious innocence cases - where a defendant is actually innocent but pleas guilty because of the rotten cost-benefit analysis associated with going to trial - might be uncovered if we were to change the incentives around jail, bail, and plea bargains. Right now those instances are masked in part because defendants who can't make bail face an overwhelming incentive to plea bargain, whether they're innocent or not.


Gadfly said...

Good basic-level summary. Unfortunately, too many people still fixate on the Waco PD, not the bond issues and Reyna's establishment of a hang-em-high culture.

Anon by choice said...

Yes and prosecutors misunderstanding their job and becoming persecutors hiding alibi evidence and using cooked up testimony by jailhouse snitches and police officers who seem to remember things that no one else even saw.

Anonymous said...

I live and pay taxes in Mclennan County. I have often wondered who here is making a profit from the Privite Jail Jack Harwell Detention Center,3101 Marlin Hwy,Waco, Texas 76705
Where the overflow from county jail are housed at a profit,Profit to whom? Inquiring minds would like to know.

Disgusted in Texas said...

And what about those judges who sentence DUI offenders to overpriced and often unreliable alcohol monitoring devices for ones home and/or vehicle, whose spouses or family members profit as the owners of the companies providing that court ordered monitoring device??? When will we have a true ETHICS monitoring device in place???

Anonymous said...

Maybe they owe a few favors to the bail bond companies and this could pay them all back at once.

Anonymous said...

I think the Parole Boards are getting kick backs on these alcohol monitoring devices. If you have ever driven a vehicle with one on it, it is more dangerous than a drunk driving. Get down the road at a high rate of speed in rush hour traffic and try to operate that dangerous device while driving sometime. Very dangerous. I have always thought the Parole Board members and offices at the county level are getting kickbacks for these devices. Maybe the Parole people in Austin are receiving under the table funds for this. There is no proof that those things even work! It is all about the prison for profit or parole for profit for those working the systems!

Eliseo Weinstein said...

Once again, John Oliver nails it! We have a truly broken legal system when people have to plead guilty because they can't afford the costs associated with a legal trial, or they just simply cannot make bail. Prison overpopulation is a real problem in this country, and I just don't know how we fix it.