Monday, September 30, 2019

'Progressive prosecutors' not all so progressive on bail reform

At the Texas Tribune festival this weekend, Josie Duffy-Rice, president of The Appeal, moderated a panel with three Democratic Texas District Attorneys - John Creuzot of Dallas, Margaret Moore of Travis County, and Mark Gonzalez of Nueces County.

(L-R) Josie Duffy, John Creuzot,
Mark Gonzalez, and Margaret Moore
An audience member asked the panelists whether they favored providing defense attorneys to defendants at "magistration," where judges set bail amounts defendants must pay to get out of jail pending trial.

Gonzalez failed to answer the question directly, conflating magistration with plea bargaining and insisting that his office was more fair than his predecessor.

Moore also talked around the issue, but in essence said she didn't think providing counsel at bail hearings was necessary. Prosecutors don't even attend those hearings in Travis County, she declared, an assertion which Grits found dubious. After all, the county indigent defense plan anticipates prosecutors may "fil[e] an application" with the court at magistration, while indigent defendants may apply for an attorney at that point, but don't get one until later. Moore suggested that a post hoc bail-review hearing was sufficient to protect defendants' liberty interests.

Creuzot was the only DA who said, definitively, "Yes," defense attorneys should be provided at magistration. He blamed Dallas judges who appealed the federal injunction for blocking the move, although at least one judge supports the idea. (The county commissioners court, which would have to come up with money to pay for additional defense counsel, surely also is a barrier to implementing that idea.)

Grits found this discussion dissatisfying, given recent developments in Texas bail-reform litigation.

In Galveston, in particular, a recent federal-court injunction explicitly required the county to provide attorneys at magistration. This was not mentioned.

Harris County eliminated magistration in 85 percent of misdemeanor cases to avoid having to make individualized determinations, and launched a pilot program to provide a public defender at bail hearings for the other 15 percent.

In Dallas, a federal judge said magistrates couldn't rely on a pre-set bail schedule without considering individual circumstances. Articulating those, of course, is a defense attorney's job. The injunction has been appealed, but the judge's order would require these hearings to occur within 48 hours of arrest.

So, if we're reading tea leaves here, in all three jurisdictions, federal judges have said that non-individualized bail hearings are unacceptable and that release decisions must be made promptly.

In that light, claims that it's sufficient to review non-individualized bail decisions later, as DA Moore declared, strike me as optimistic, at best. All the federal court rulings in Texas so far have required more.

Certainly it's insufficient to address the issue during plea bargaining, as Mark Gonzalez maintained! Part of the problem with excessive pretrial detention is that it makes defendants more likely to accept unfavorable plea bargains.

The US constitution forbids "excessive bail," not bail per se, so it's unlikely federal courts will ever "abolish money bail," as most #cjreform advocates would prefer. But it also seems clear to this observer that federal courts will eventually require individualized bail determinations, likely at magistration.

We've now seen three different options emerge from federal courts for how to do that: Provide counsel at magistration, as in Galveston; hold individualized hearings within 48 hours of arrest, as in Dallas; or simply eliminate bail determination hearings for most nonviolent cases, and provide lawyers at magistration for the remaining subset, as Harris County is doing.

No one can tell which of these options will be required writ large across Texas until the 5th Circuit rules in one of these cases. Now that the Harris County suit has settled, it seems likely that Dallas will be the first to reach that stage. Their preliminary injunction came out more than a year ago, while Galveston's only emerged last month.

Regardless, Creuzot was the only DA on the so-called "progressive prosecutor" panel who gave what Grits would consider a "progressive" answer on bail reform. Letting folks sit around in jail because they're too poor to pay just isn't good enough, anymore.


Anonymous said...

Counsel or representation should be extended to defendants through the Grand Jury Indictment process as well.

Anonymous said...

I would like to hear comments on this example: Former inmate arrested twice in a month for violations of probation. Example:No drivers license or ID attained. Well the Truth be told, the DPS refused to give either to former inmate even with Birth records and mother present.

Example 2: Being on a computer. Truth be told - with no way to travel to have the necessities of life the computer is accentual to many people (food, clothes, bills, parts, research, study classes and ect.).

Background: Former Prosecutor while campaigning for Judge spoke before the Tea Party members bragging that he gives 10 years probation on his cases, so that he can yank them back into the system. The "Bond money" must be rolling in to this bias court system.

New DA gave a Motion of "OR" to the Judge. Own Recognizance worked for first arrest but second arrest was not good enough, on a Friday both the DA and two ADA's were not in their Office. Only a Secretary to the DA which had no authority to do anything. On top of that, the Judge said he had NO authority to do an "OR" just set Bond.

The severe hardship that has been put on this family is against their Oath of Office as our public servants. Would you call this justice?

By the way, the charges that sent him to prison were bogus, never investigated by competent public officials and the accused party refused early Parole because he would have to admit guilt to a crime he was innocent of.

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