Texas authorities, including legislators and law enforcement agencies, have announced a set of new proposals for a purported “reform” of the bail system in Texas. The overall effect of the changes appear at least on the surface to be geared toward letting fewer accused persons obtain vital bail bonds for release pending court proceedings. With the devil always being in the details, whether the new legislation will pass and whether it will improve criminal justice in the state remains to be seen.
The American criminal justice system has always operated on the ideal principle that an accused is innocent until proved guilty in a court of law. Because the system moves slowly, a person could languish in jail for many months until the case comes to court for trial or a negotiated guilty plea. Therefore, many experts have called for a streamlined system that gives poor people an equal right to be released pending due process as those who are wealthy enough to post immediate bond.
The proposed changes, however, are named in honor of a state trooper who was killed in the line of duty in 2017 by a suspect who was allegedly out on bail when the trooper made a traffic stop. The officer was reportedly ambushed and killed by the individual who had a criminal record and had bonded out of jail on aggravated assault charges. The thrust of the proposed changes, therefore, dwell on tightening the rules for release on bond. Law enforcement officers and judicial officials will be provided with resources that will give them a fuller picture of the individual’s prior criminal history prior to setting the amount and nature of bail.
The changes may bring some level of added protection to police officers and the public in Texas. There is also a danger that the legislation, if passed, will be abused by the authorities. It could be used to increase the prison population by unjustly incarcerating those who deserve to be free on bail bonds or recognizance bonds pending due process. Legislation that logically intends to provide fewer releases on bond is likely to be prone to abuse by the authorities.