Bail reform

Bail Reform Awaits Governor's Signature

One state senator predicts the issue may be sent back to lawmakers

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Fairness for defendants versus safety for the public is the heart of the debate over changes to the Texas bail system.

The death of a trooper by a suspect who was released despite a history of violence sparked the call for changes.

The so-called 'Damon Allen Act' is named for that trooper. 

It was approved by both the Texas House and Senate in the special session that ended this week and has been sent to Governor Greg Abbott for his signature.

Critics say reformers went too far and reversed efforts to be fairer to defendants.

"It is disproportionately in a negative way affecting Black and brown people and definitely poor people," said Texas State Representative Jasmine Crockett, a Dallas Democrat.

Central Texas mourned the Thanksgiving 2017 murder of Allen, who was shot at an I-45 traffic stop.

Arrested was Dabrett Black. He had just been released from jail on a small $15,500 bond by a Justice of the Peace who said he had no information about Black’s long history of violence against law enforcement.

State Senator Royce West, also a Dallas Democrat, said he voted in favor of the new law.

“Really what comes out of this particular legislation is that, yes, you’ve got to have information about a person’s background before you set a bond,” West said.

Crockett is a former public defender who dealt with the bail system.

“We all want to be safe in our community, but if we believe in our constitution, and believe in things like innocent until proven guilty, then we should look at things like, what is the risk to the community,” Crockett said.

She complains the proposed law limits the option of setting defendants free on personal recognizance without cash bond for certain crimes.

“The court needs to be able to assess the individual circumstances surrounding a case,” Crockett said.  

Crockett said she once represented Kenvione Overton, a man who spent more than a year in jail, unable to post a $250,000 bond in a murder case that was later dropped.

She said cash bonds favor the idea that you are less dangerous because you have money.

Crocket also complained about a provision to limit the number of demonstrators a nonprofit group can bail out of jail, which she said has nothing to do with the circumstances of Trooper Allen’s death.

“In the first generation of this bill they were trying to deny bail to anyone who was protesting,” Crockett said.

West said the compromise preserved the right of nonprofit groups to bail out protestors but added reporting requirements.

Senator West said the law would support reforms like risk assessments that were already in place in Dallas County to limit cash bonds for people who can’t afford them instead of just using guidelines for bonds based on crimes.

“You just can't use a mathematical formula to decide bail amount for an individual,” West said.

But Governor Abbott has not signed the deal and West predicted it will be back before the legislature soon, maybe in the next special session.

“The end result is that there is still work to be done,” West said.

Crockett said Abbott wants bail to be forbidden for people accused of some crimes.

“There were certain circumstances he didn’t want people to have access to bail at all. And that requires a constitutional amendment because it’s unconstitutional to just let people stay in jail with no bail,” Crockett said.

A spokesperson at Abbott’s office Friday said the Governor has not decided what he will do about the bail reform bill but there will be a public statement when he does.

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