- John Oliver on bail
- New York Times feature, reporter's notebook, and followup
- Marshall Project
- San Francisco Gate
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.