Monday, January 06, 2020

Conflating federal/state systems to demagogue vs. bail reform

The Dallas Morning News editorial board issued one of the most ignorant, counter-productive commentaries on bail reform I've seen in a while. They announce that:
there is another type of bail “reform” that is growing into a national movement championed by some district attorneys. This type of bail reform drives toward the uncritical release, on outrageously low bonds, of people accused of violent crimes who have a history of violent behavior.
This, of course, is a bald-faced lie. They quote no district attorneys suggesting this because none of them ever have. But that doesn't stop them from pretending that Dallas DA John Creuzot somehow merits criticism on this vector:
Dallas District Attorney John Creuzot has been a leading voice for bail reform, just as he has led Dallas in the embrace of refusing to prosecute low-level crimes. We don’t believe his approach is the most effective to keep Dallas secure, especially in its most vulnerable communities.
The editorial board would like to pretend they support bail reform, just not John Creuzot's brand. What bail reform do they support? None, really. They're engaging in misdirection, attempting to blame bail reform for the failings of the status quo. 

They were reacting to a column by the US Attorney for Texas' Northern District whose headline posed the demagogic question, "Why are many violent criminals back on the streets shortly after being arrested?" Given that crime rates remain at 40-50 year lows, that's awfully phony framing. Despite an uptick this year, on the whole, Dallas residents remain less likely to be victimized by violent crime than at any time in decades. Yes, in a city with so many people, one can always identify scary anecdotes. But overall, crime rates are way down.

The USA's commentary and the Dallas News' editorial board's less nuanced, more ham-handed, and fundamentally stupider assessment both hinge on a misunderstanding of the differences between federal and state law on bail. IMO, the USA intentionally elided these differences. The Morning News' editorial board appeared simply ignorant.

Here's the deal. The federal system doesn't use money bail at all. Instead, there exists a concept called "preventive detention," so most people are simply let go pending trial. OTOH, if they're deemed an imminent danger to the public, defendants may be detained without bail. That's not how it works under the Texas Constitution, Sec. 11a, which in fact forbids preventive detention in all but a handful of circumstances. Everyone else is entitled to money bail, and if they can afford to pay, they are released.

The case of David Cadena, which the Morning News portrayed as the poster child for their stance, offers a case in point. He didn't meet criteria for preventive detention and so he was granted bail for his alleged violent offenses, posting $20K and $25K in two separate incidents.

This is how the system has worked forever: If you have money, you get out of jail; if you don't, you stay in. That's not the fault of bail reform, that's the old-fashioned money-bond system at work. Certainly it's not a function of anything John Creuzot did!

The USA and the Dallas Morning News both pretend that judges had the option of detaining Cadena indefinitely when, in reality, setting bail was required. 

Meanwhile, neither the USA nor the editorial board deny there's a big problem with low-level offenders languishing in jail  because they can't make bond. But they blow past the issue to speciously blame bail reform (which hasn't happened in Dallas) for violent crimes happening under the legacy system. That's disingenuous.

Grits is unsure why a federal prosecutor would stick their nose into these local issues except perhaps for a Trump appointee wanting to score political points against urban Democrats. But the Dallas News routinely offers the worst coverage in the state on all criminal-justice topics, harking back to '90s-era demagoguery in both news and opinion pieces far more frequently than other Texas MSM outlets. This was par for the course for them.


Gadfly said...

"The Dallas News routinely offers the worst coverage." Full stop. Period. Nothing else need be or should be added.

Having been a suburban Dallas newspaper stiff in the previous decade, I know this full well.

Steven Michael Seys said...

When Belo Media bought out and closed the Times Herald, journalism in Dallas died, left only to the slanted demagoguery of Belo's other outlets. I don't trust any corporate media.

Daniel J McGraw said...

Some basic facts nationally. Point is that the boogieman doesn't get out and instantly rob grandma is bail bond policy is brought into the modern world