Friday, February 16, 2018

It's a swing and a miss

And it's strike two against Harris County in their efforts to maintain an unconstitutional and discriminatory bail policy in place.

Last June, US District Judge Lee Rosenthal ordered Harris County to change the way in which those arrested for non-violent misdemeanors are treated. Out went the bond schedule that failed to take into account the individual financial circumstances of the accused. In came a system in which folks who couldn't afford bail were released on personal bonds and pretrial release.

Fourteen of the county misdemeanor judges joined together to challenge Judge Rosenthal's order. As noted here, Judge Mike Fields removed himself from the rest of the Republican judges recently.

Now the Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals has issued its ruling and it affirmed Judge Rosenthal's order. This should be the death blow to the county's attempt to reinstitute the plea mill as no one would ever come to the conclusion that the Fifth Circuit Court is anything other than conservative at heart.

While the Court stopped short of saying that everyone charged with a misdemeanor has the right to pre-trial release, Harris County is required to conduct an individual assessment of each detainee.

The stance of the judges fighting to overturn Judge Rosenthal's order should come as quite jarring when compared to their tame campaign promises to see that justice is done.  The justice these judges have in mind is coercing defendants who can't afford to post bond to plead guilty to criminal acts without having the opportunity to investigate the facts and to hold the state to its burden of proof.

Now the leverage the judges and prosecutors had over many defendants is gone. And that's a very good thing, no matter what the Republican judges tell you between now and November.

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