Much has been made of the ongoing bond to murder spree in Harris County. With the local judges, by and large, being criminal friendly and readily giving out bond it raises the question of just how many individuals are out on bond to establish the scope of the bond issue. To that end a Public Information Act request was filed with the district attorney office to find out the number of individuals were out on felony bond. The response is 53,830 individuals are out on felony bond for 75,344 charges.
The total number of individuals out on felony bond seems shockingly high. The county courts at law have a somewhat higher number of individuals out on bond compared to the district courts, with the high, low and average as follows:
County Courts at Law District Courts
Low: 1,558 Low: 973
High: 2,697 High: 2,194
Average: 2,329 Average: 1,730
Of the district courts, the 177th and to a lesser extent the 337th had low outlying values for bond, but otherwise the courts seemed to not have any high bond outliers. The district courts could be broken into tiers of bond, with a fairly even distribution between the tiers. A graph of the County Courts at Law and the District Courts is shown below. The District Courts are broken into two charts so each court is visible on the axis; there’s no other reason for breaking it into the two charts.
Types of Charges
The District Attorney’s office was asked to provide a breakdown of defendants out on bond broken down by court and by offense type. This was further reduced to felony bond only given the sheer number of offenses involved. In the dataset they provided the information is too dense to publish in any meaningful form. Even breaking the crimes down into the various “trees” of crimes (all assaults for example) gives over 40 different offense listings. It’s noteworthy these numbers are only felony bonds, so offenses like animal cruelty are only the felony number out on bond. A table with these trees can be found at the end of the article. What’s below is some of the worst of the worst crimes.
Murder tree – 454
Deadly Conduct – 131
Crimes against Children – 1443
Family Violence not involving a protective order – 10,692
Protective Order Violation – 642
Sexual Assault not against a child – 261.
Note this is for unique defendants – this isn’t a case of an individual shows up in multiple categories in this breakdown. Looking a little deeper than these broad categories 76 people are out on capital murder bond. With the crimes against children 1,099 of the crimes against children are sexual assault or attempted sexual assault. With family violence 1,984 are aggravated assault.
The penal code sets out the criteria to be used for bail bond. The penal code directs:
Art. 17.15. RULES FOR FIXING AMOUNT OF BAIL. The amount of bail to be required in any case is to be regulated by the court, judge, magistrate or officer taking the bail; they are to be governed in the exercise of this discretion by the Constitution and by the following rules:
- The bail shall be sufficiently high to give reasonable assurance that the undertaking will be complied with.
- The power to require bail is not to be so used as to make it an instrument of oppression.
- The nature of the offense and the circumstances under which it was committed are to be considered.
- The ability to make bail is to be regarded, and proof may be taken upon this point.
- The future safety of a victim of the alleged offense and the community shall be considered.
Being poor is not a crime. However, it is only one factor in the list of factors the penal code requires to be used for evaluating bond. The current criminal courts and the democrats on Commissioner’s Court seem to favor the second on fourth element over the other three. Evidence of this can be seen by looking at some of the more heinous crimes listed above.
With the ongoing bond to murder spree it’s hard to say that the fifth element – future safety of victims and the community – is given any consideration. The six hundred forty-two bonds for violation of a protective order is especially disturbing since it establishes the defendant already has willfully violated the court’s instruction. The courts have no reason to believe an individual will appear for their court date if they already are disregarding orders. Also, the courts have no reason to suspect the victim of community is safe in the instance of an individual who violates a protective order. Yet, 642 times a court has allowed the individual bond.
While others doubtless can and will do a more fine toothed analysis of the specific crimes and courts, hopefully the sheer number of individuals out on felony bond is a wake up call to show just how expansive of a problem we are facing.
Consolidated list of crimes:
|Burglary – Building||1938|
|Controlled Substance – Possession||7204|
|Failure to ID||504|
|Motor Vehicle – Intox Assault||89|
|Motor Vehicle – Non-DUI||1762|
|Violation of Protective Order Attempted-FV||642|
Paul A Kubosh says
More shocking is the types of bonds they are out on. How many are P.R.bonds? How many are $100 bonds? etc. etc. To quote our far left brethren. All of these people need to be let out of jail because if not they will lose their jobs. Don’t forget innocent until proven guilty.
The reason there are so many people on bond in Harris County is that the county criminal justice system is basically out of the trial business. First, the criminal justice center was closed due to hurricane damage. Everyone piddled and repairs took forever. It was finally getting back into some semblance of operation when COVID hit.
Plea bargains start when a trial date gets close and many cases settle with a jury panel in the hallway. No trials, no pressure to settle.
None of the judges is what you call criminal friendly. But the new judges are more likely than their predecessors to work hard to ensure defendants’ constitutional rights. Remember, people who are on pretrial bonds haven’t been convicted of anything.
Also, there is pressure from the sheriff to keep the jail population under control. Add it all up and you would be amazed why there aren’t more people on bond.
Fat Albert says
So, I tend to dig a bit when I see pieces like this that are numbers based. And, what I see is that (using a bit of basic math) if each case takes a single day to clear through the courses, there is almost a 2 year backup of cases. And, that’s assuming that new cases don’t come in.
I suspect that the DA’s office is gonna be cutting a lot of plea bargain deals in the next few months. . . . .
The DA’s office and the court system are between a rock and a hard place. The defendants, even those on bond, have a Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. As soon as the pandemic is over, speedy trial motions will be flying. And, if the defendant can prove prejudice — like a key defense witness died — he might win and get a dismissal.
The DA can, at most, try about two felonies a week and that’s if everything goes right and jury selection is short.
There’s going to be a fire sale at the courthouse. And it doesn’t matter whether the DA is Kim Ogg or Johnny Holmes, the DA is going to have to make real low offers to clear out the backlog.
Greg Degeyter says
The other option is to temporarily beef up the DA staff. Move misdemeanor prosecutors over to felony on a temporary basis and bring in a temporary crop of attorneys to move misdemeanor cases along.
Fat Albert says
I think if they’re going to do that, then they will need more judges and courtrooms.
t takes an act of the legislature to create a new court. And, it costs taxpayers more than $500,000 per year for each district court. Then there’s construction of the courtroom space. It would be impossible to try more than about 40 jury trials per week with the courts we have.
And, when things start up again, you can bet piority will go to jail cases, not bond cases. After all, you have literally thousands of presumptively innocent people rotting in jail now. Some sitting in jail on state jail felonies are coming up on the maximum punishment for their offenses, two years incarceration.
What the DA’s office needs in terms of personnel — and has needed for years — is a fourth junior prosecutor in each felony court. The poor bastards in those jobs are working 70-80 hours per week for 40 hours pay.
The $100 bonds and ROR’s should be stopped. Victims and witnesses may be in danger.
Start an evening court until the dockets are reduced . The work day could presumably be from 8am to 10pm. Most would be pleas anyway. I heard a robbery suspect in South Harris County was out on 3 Harris County robbery bonds. One mile further South in Galveston County would be a different story.
If a person on bond for a felony is charged with a new felony, he can be held without bond. As for personal bonds, the federal courts either release people on personal bonds with conditions of bond, require them to put up 10 percent of the bond with the court or they hold them without bond. And, it’s rare for a federal pretrial releasee to commit a new offense or fail to show up for court.
It’s incredibly rare for a witness to be harmed by a defendant on bond. The defendants know that’s a sure ticket for an awfully long sentence on the original crime plus a mega sentence for harming the witnesses.
As for working the courts 14 hours per day, who is going to work them? The county employees who staff the courts like bailiffs and clerks, can’t be expected to work 14 hours per day forever. And, the overtime bill would make Trey’s eyes water.
The Harris County Jail is crowded with 8,578 inmates today. That is near capacity. And, when you start bringing in new inmates, the chance of bringing COVID into the jail increases. Guess who pays for the inmates medical care. You got it, the taxpayer. And, it costs about $50 per day to house an inmate even if he isn’t sick. We don’t want to fill the jail with low level inmates at those costs because they can’t afford to pay a bondsman to get out of jail.
Right now, the country as well as Harris County is in the midst of a crisis caused by COVID. That along with hurricane damage to the criminal justice center have caused incredible problems for the criminal court system. And, Texas officials are setting us up for a huge wave of infections.
Just look at Europe which is locking down again because of huge increases in COVID cases.
It’s a bad situation but it’s something we have to work through thoughtfully, not by filling the jail and holding court sessions 14 hours per day.
Greg Degeyter says
While the defendant can be held without bond for a subsequent offense they aren’t being held. Of the fifty three thousand and change unique SPNs out on bond there’s seventy five thousand offenses for which bond has been issued. This suggests a significant number of multiple bond offenders. The problem is with the judges not the system.
I agree we should start with the federal system as a system for guidance, but then modify to fit the facts on the ground in Harris County. Right now the offenders are getting multiple bonds. Simply stopping those, the capital murder bonds, and protective order violations is a good starting point to see how much tweaking would need to follow.
Given the jail is almost always perpetually filled or over filled with suspected criminals and the good people of Harris County have voted against building more jails, what do you offer as a solution Greg? It would help the context of this piece by telling us the stats of those already in jail, after all, if there are 9000 suspected felons already incarcerated, doesn’t it become a sort of shuffling game?
As far as bail is concerned, for as long as I remember into the 1970’s, most of our courts took the lazy way out by establishing a monetary-only system except for a small percentage of those charged. By focusing almost exclusively on a money bail rather than holding a short hearing to establish a specific threat by a defendant, both democrats and republicans opted for convenience over following the law. That doesn’t excuse current judges from letting clear threat defendants out on pittance bonds but I fail to see how making them enrich a bail bond company for several hundred or thousand dollars makes those defendants any less of a threat.
I suspect both of us would agree that those charged with murder, armed robbery, rape, and other most serious crimes should be filling those limited jail beds but given no information as to who is actually in those beds right now makes it difficult to determine how outraged we are supposed to be. Bail is not to be used as a punishment given those locked up have yet to be found guilty, only to make sure they show up to hearings, but until there is a willingness to build and staff more jails at great expense, I’d prefer to hear viable solutions rather than be told we have 6x our jails capacity on bonds, not even including the misdemeanor cases, and little that can be done about it.
Hey Howie, how about writing something about Jim Crane and ask him how he feels about his tribe of fellow owners voting to reject voter IDs?