In a major victory for civil rights groups, U.S. District Judge David Godbey banned Dallas County from using a predetermined schedule to set bail .without considering alternatives that would allow the suspects’ release from jail.
In a major victory for civil rights groups, a federal judge banned Dallas County from using a predetermined schedule to set bail without considering alternatives that would allow the suspects’ release from jail, the Dallas Morning News reports. Though U.S. District Judge David Godbey’s order is temporary, his ruling Thursday indicated that the groups that sued the county “are substantially likely to prevail on the merits.” Godbey wrote that the policy of setting bail without regard for a defendant’s ability to pay violated the constitutional rights of arrestees to equal protection under the law. “Wealthy arrestees — regardless of the crime they are accused of — who are offered secured bail can pay the requested amount and leave. Indigent arrestees in the same position cannot,” the judge said.
Godbey ordered Dallas County to provide suspects booked at its jail with an individual hearing within 48 hours if a magistrate judge doesn’t release them after they’ve indicated they cannot afford bail. Under the judge’s order, an impartial decision-maker — likely a magistrate judge — must make an individual assessment of whether an amount of bail or an alternative condition provides sufficient guarantee that the suspect will appear in court. The suspect must have a chance at the hearing to provide evidence in his or her favor, and to dispute evidence provided by law enforcement. If the decision-maker declines to lower the bail from the prescheduled amount, he or she must provide “factual findings” explaining the reasoning. In January, four nonprofits filed a federal lawsuit alleging the county jail’s cash bail system unfairly harmed poor people and violated the Texas and U.S. constitutions. Officials had pledged to reform the system after the Morning News published an article on a woman jailed on $150,000 bond for a $105 shoplifting charge, but the nonprofits said the system didn’t change.