Texas Legislature to weigh further overhaul of state bail laws (2023)

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Politics // Texas Politics

State leaders say stricter bail laws are needed to curtail a rise in the number of defendants charged with new crimes while out on bond.

Jasper Scherer,Austin Bureau

Texas Legislature to weigh further overhaul of state bail laws (12)

With an eye on Harris County, Texas lawmakers are considering new measures aimed at keeping more defendants accused of violent and sexual crimes behind bars as they await trial, building off recent changes that clamped down on the use of cashless bail in state courts.

Republicans have made the issue a priority in recent campaigns and legislative sessions, arguing that stricter bail laws are needed to curtail a rise in the number of defendants, particularly in Harris County, charged with new crimes while out on bond.State GOP leaders have pinned most of the blame on local Democratic judges, who they accuse of setting overly lenient bail conditions.

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Democrats and civil rights groups say the GOP’s 2021 bail overhaul,Senate Bill 6, has done little to address the problem because it sets limits only on no-cost and low-cost bonds — meaning those who can afford to post bail can still do so, while only those without enough cash are forced to stay behind bars.

Opponents of the GOP bail restrictions have pointed to a Chronicle analysis that found most people accused of murder while out on bond in Harris County had secured their release by paying bail.

Restricting the use of cash bail would require amending the Texas Constitution, a step proposed by Republican lawmakers in 2021 that failed to attract enough support from Democrats.

This session, state Sen. Joan Huffman — the Houston Republican who authored the GOP’s priority bail bill in 2021 — is planning to take a second crack at an amendment that would authorize judges to deny bail “under some circumstances to a person accused of a violent or sexual offense.”

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For now, the Texas Constitution places firm restrictions on when judges can deny bail outright, generally guaranteeing defendants a right to pretrial release unless they are charged with capital murder or meet certain criteria for repeat violent offenses. Two years ago, Republicans sought to expand those conditions, but the measure died in the House over opposition from Democrats who said the proposed changes were too broad.

The policy has the support of Gov. Greg Abbott, who has said he wants lawmakers to “once again seek to pass a constitutional amendment to keep dangerous criminals behind bars."

“I signed a bail reform law last session to try to strengthen bail policies,” Abbott said last fall. “But to make sure that we achieve what we needed to achieve, we also needed to amend the Texas Constitution.”

Huffman has said she also wants to expand the 2021 GOP bail bill to deny no-cost personal bonds to defendants charged with violating family violence protective orders and unlawfully possessing a weapon as a convicted felon. The bill already prohibits the use ofpersonal bonds for some 20 violent and sexual crimes.

It also provides judges and magistrates with more information about a defendant’s criminal history and requires them to consider that factor, among others, when setting bail.

Local felony court judges, for their part, say they have set higher bail amounts for felony charges in recent years, but are still hamstrung in most cases by the bail guarantees in the state constitution.

State Rep. Ann Johnson, D-Houston, said she is “open” to a bail-related constitutional amendment, but only if Republicans also commit to changes aimed at tackling Harris County’s enormous backlog of cases and reducing mass incarceration.

“I think what we have to be mindful of is not overdoing it. We're talking about changing the foundation of our constitutional requirements,” said Johnson, the former chief human trafficking prosecutor in Harris County. “If I thought that would make you safer, I'm open to those things. But that, in the absence of the investment in the infrastructure of the public safety system, the criminal justice system, is expedient. Yeah, it sounds good. But I don't know that it has the effect that we all desperately want.”

Huffman, through multiple attempts to pass the constitutional amendment in 2021, repeatedly stressed that she was taking a “balanced approach” that would avoid targeting low-level offenders. She said the measure was aimed at “clearly violent individuals who are at high risk of either not appearing [for trial] or reoffending.”

A former state district judge, Huffman also has noted that judges and magistrates would be merely given discretion, not required, to deny bail under the cases outlined in the amendment.

“This is to be used for the most heinous examples and the worst abuses that we see of the bail system,” Huffman said when laying out her plan in committee meetings.“This is what the prosecutors and those who are trying to deal with these issues are asking for. … I've really tried to focus on those that pose a risk to our citizens, and I’m trying very hard to get that done in a fair way that honors due process.”

All changes to the Texas Constitution require two-thirds support in both chambers of the Legislature. Voters must then approve the measure in a statewide referendum.

Bail bond companies

Lawmakers and local officials have also begun taking aim at the bail bond industry in an effort to slow the rate of violent crime committed by defendants who are out on bond.

In 2021, Harris County defendants were charged with 22,610 new felonies and misdemeanors while out on bond, more than three times as many as in 2015, according to county data. The Harris County District Attorney's Office projected a slight decline in that number by the end of 2022, though still well above totals from previous years.

The changes center around a standard, used in most jurisdictions and other states, that bail agents require defendants to come up with 10 percent of the bail amount, plus collateral, to secure their freedom. A recent Houston Chronicle investigation found that bail bondsmen have for years offered defendants discounted rates, sometimes as low as 2 or 3 percent.

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Last year, the Harris County Bail Bond Board approved a measure requiring licensed bail agents to take an upfront fee of at least 10 percent of bail from defendants charged with violent crimes.

This session, Johnson has filed a bill that would essentially extend the policy statewide. It would alsoappear to insulate Harris County from the legal argument, advanced by the bail bond industry, that counties do not have authority to “fix prices or set rates” like the 10 percent minimum.

The idea has received support from conservatives and liberals alike.

“Texans must hold the bonding industry accountable for who they are helping to release back into our communities,” said Nikki Pressley, Texas director of Right On Crime, an arm of the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation think tank. “The 10 percent minimum would help judges more accurately assess how high they want to set bail for high-risk cases.”

Pressley said the Legislature “also has an opportunity to do more on this issue, such as requiring the bondsmen to pay the outstanding balance of a bond forfeiture when someone reoffends while on bond.”

“A bonding agent is essentially an insurance agent, but right now, they face no repercussions for bonding out violent offenders over and over,” she said.

Case backlogs

Also on the agenda for some lawmakers is Harris County’s backlog of nearly 40,000 pending felony cases across its 23 criminal district courts.

The cases began piling up after Hurricane Harvey, which damaged the county’s criminal justice facilities in 2017 and brought proceedings to a crawl. Court closures during the COVID-19 pandemic, paired with a nationwide increase in violent crime, caused further disruption and created more backlogs in counties across Texas.

This has led to jail overcrowding, extended the time defendants spend behind bars before they’re convicted of a crime, and delayed case resolutions for victims. In Harris County, plea deals are routinely rejected by defendants who have little incentive to accept even reduced charges, since the likelihood of conviction falls as cases languish.

To speed things up, Johnson has proposed the creation of six new district courts to handle felony criminal cases in Harris County.

In 2021, the Legislature approved a new criminal district court in Texas’ largest county for the first time since 1984, even as Harris County’s population has swelled from nearly 2.8 million to more than 4.7 million since then.

Johnson said that even six new courts would not meet the county’s needs, citing a recent study by the state Office of Court Administration that found Harris County needs dozens of new judges to handle criminal, civil and family cases.

“That's great that people are coming here,” Johnson said. “But that also means those are additional folks that are strains on our roads, on our schools, on our healthcare system, and, like it or not, our court system. The idea that all these folks are coming here and are not going to get traffic tickets or DWIs, whatever else, is illogical.”

The courts would be funded by the county, which would need to cover the costs of employing judges, prosecutors, bailiffs and clerks for each court, along with the physical space to house them. County officials have previously estimated that it costs about $1.7 million to run one court per year.


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What is the Texas Legislature bail bond reform? ›

Greg Abbott signed into law Senate Bill 6, which placed restrictions on how judges set bail. Typically, judges can review a person's charges and criminal history and determine whether a defendant must pay cash or be released without payment on what's known as a personal recognizance bond, or "PR bond."

Is there a constitutional right to bail in Texas? ›

11. BAIL. All prisoners shall be bailable by sufficient sureties, unless for capital offences†, when the proof is evident; but this provision shall not be so construed as to prevent bail after indictment found upon examination of the evidence, in such manner as may be prescribed by law.

Do you have to pay full bail amount in Texas? ›

Bail is posted - The defendant can pay the full amount of bail to the court, or Doc's Bail Bonds can post bail for you after you pay 10% of the total bail amount to Doc's. After we post bail, the defendant will come to our office for pictures and signatures.

What percentage of bail must be paid in Texas? ›

In such a case, you enter into a written agreement with a surety company that posts bond on your behalf. You pay a fee to the bail bondsman in return for this service, which is usually a percentage of the total bail amount. In Texas, the average amount you pay the bail bondsman for service fees is about 10 percent.

Did bail reform pass in Texas? ›

Gov. Dan Patrick and others, Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 6, the so-called bail reform bill, into law.

What is the difference between bail and bond in Texas? ›

Bail is the amount of money that an accused person pays in order to be released from custody as they await trial. A bond, on the other hand, is a promise made in money, and a bonds company hired by the defendant pays the amount. Therefore, the bail can either be a personal bond or a bail bond.

Is denying bail unconstitutional? ›

The eighth amendment in the American Bill of Rights was adopted from the English Bill of Rights of 1689 and provides that excessive bail or fines shall not be imposed. Interpretations of the U.S. Constitution and State constitutions have consistently upheld the right to deny bail in capital cases.

Does bail violate the Constitution? ›

2.2 Modern Doctrine on Bail. Eighth Amendment: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Can someone bail themselves out of jail Texas? ›

To answer our original question, yes; you can bail yourself out. However, there are some limitations. In order to bail yourself out, you need to have the full amount of bail on your person at the time of the arrest. Depending on your offense, that may be quite a lot of money.

How long do you stay in jail if you can't make bail Texas? ›

Without bail, defendants stay in jail until the conclusion of their trial. That can take months — sometimes more than a year. It's all time served without being convicted, and even if the trial goes your way, there is no compensation or recourse for the time you spent in jail playing by the rules.

How long can you be out on bond in Texas? ›

After 90 days of incarceration and if the State has not indicted a defendant, such a person is generally entitled to a 90-day personal bond.

Did Texas make cash bail mandatory? ›

Texas and its Republican state legislature passed a law last year that would require cash bail for individuals accused of violent felonies, restricting judges from using other pretrial release conditions like drug testing and electronic monitoring.

What is the highest bail amount ever set? ›

Number 1 Highest Bail Amount In History- Robert Durst

In 2003, Robert Durst found himself in a jail cell with a grand total of 3 billion dollars over his head. The court set his bail this high not only because of the nature of his crimes but also because he was considered a flight risk.

How much do you have to pay on a $50000 bond in Texas? ›

Therefore, for many applicants, a $50,000 surety bond will cost between $1,500 and $2,500—usually paid as an annual premium. For applicants with a good credit score above 675, rates are often reduced to between 1% and 3%.

Is Texas a no cash bail state? ›

The new law prohibits the release on a personal bond, which requires no cash payment, of anyone charged with a violent crime, or anyone who while out on bail on violent crime charges, is charged with any felony, or misdemeanor assault, deadly conduct, terrorist threat, or gun charges.

What is Senate Bill 6 bail reform Texas? ›

SB 6 requires OCA to create a system by April 1, 2022, that will create reports for magistrates to consider when making bail decisions on defendants. These reports are called public safety reports (PSR) and the overall system is the public safety report system (PSRS).

Can a bail bondsman search my house in Texas? ›

Half Down Bail Bonding Blog

As a general rule, they can enter the fugitive's property, but not anyone else's. They must be physically aware, by sight or sound, that the fugitive is within the home, and that entering the home will not endanger anyone inside.

Did Senate Bill 6 pass in Texas? ›

Lawmakers passed Senate Bill 6 and Senate Bill 7 by votes of 22-9 and 31-0, respectively. The bills represent a push toward funneling more money to natural gas energy production in the state, which supporters say will improve the electric grid because those generators can essentially come on with the flip of a switch.

What happens if you can't make bail in Texas? ›

If you do not have the funds necessary to cover the entire cost of bail, you will remain in jail until the judge decides you can leave.

Is bail jumping a felony in Texas? ›

A conviction for Bail Jumping and Failure to Appear is punished as a Class A Misdemeanor, with a maximum possible fine under Texas state law of up to $4,000 and jail time of up to one year, unless it falls into one of the two categories described in the next two paragraphs.

What happens if you can't post bail in Texas? ›

If you can't pay the bail the court has set, you won't be able to get released from jail. Therefore, you will have to remain in jail until the date the court has set for your trial. Not being able to post your bail can be a difficult and stressful situation.

How does bail violate the 14th amendment? ›

Under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, cash bail systems are unconstitutional because they impermissibly discriminate against indigent persons and fail under heightened scrutiny.

What does the 8th amendment say bail Cannot be ______? ›

Amendment 8

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Does cash bail violate the 8th amendment? ›

In Robinson v. California, the Supreme Court held that it is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment to punish an individual for a status or condition. Poverty is a status. The cash bail system is unconstitutional under Robinson and the Eighth Amendment because it punishes the status of poverty.

What is an example of the 8th amendment being violated? ›

Atkins v. Virginia. A case in which the Court found that sentencing a mentally disabled person to death is a violation of the Eighth Amendment's Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause.

What are the exceptions to the 8th amendment? ›

Additionally, the death penalty cannot be imposed on minors, defendants with intellectual disabilities, or on defendants who committed crimes that do not warrant the death penalty as an appropriate form of punishment.

Why do we have a constitutional right to bail? ›

Bail, guaranteed by the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, ensures the Court that a criminal defendant will appear for trial. W hen our forefathers created the United States Constitution, their intent was to guarantee certain rights to all citizens of this country.

Can a bondsman revoke your bond in Texas? ›

Only the court can revoke a bond.

Can a felon bond someone out of jail in Texas? ›

There are no laws preventing a felon from doing it. We recommend you consult with your attorney or parole officer before paying someone's bail.

Can Texas judges deny bail? ›

Currently, the Texas Constitution has little exceptions for cases in which judges can deny bail outright. Defendants have the right to a release before their trial unless they are charged with capital murder or have repeated charges for violent offenses.

What is bail jumping in Texas? ›

The formal definition of bail jumping and failure to appear is: a person lawfully released from custody, with or without bail, on condition that he appear, commits an offense if he intentionally or knowingly fails to appear in accordance with the terms of release.

How much is bail for a felony in Texas? ›

Bail for state jail felonies is usually around $500 to $1,500. Third Degree Felonies - Offenses include stalking, indecent exposure to a child, a third DWI offense, deadly conduct with a firearm, or intoxication assault. Bail for third-degree felonies is usually around $1,500 to $5,000.

What happens if you bail someone out and they go back to jail in Texas? ›

The 10% you put down originally goes to the bondsman, and if there is a second arrest, you will need to pay a second bond if the court requires it.

Can you drink on bond in Texas? ›

Even if you don't break any laws while doing so, your bond will be forfeit if you're caught drinking or hanging out in a bar or pub.

Can a bond be reinstated Texas? ›

If there is a genuine reason for the violation, a bail bond reinstatement can be pressed.

Can you move out of state while on bond in Texas? ›

You may be allowed to leave the state if you have written consent from the court and your bail bond agent. However, depending on the specific circumstances of your case, the crime you're accused of, and the amount of your bond, the court or your bond agent may place travel conditions on your bail.

How do you bail someone out of jail without money in Texas? ›

Putting down collateral - Even if a person or their loved ones do not have sufficient funds to pay for a bail bond, they may be able to cover the costs by turning over the title to valuable property, such as a vehicle or home.

What states have cashless bail? ›

In February 2021, Illinois became the first state to fully abolish cash bail (set to go into effect in January 2023). In March 2021, the California Supreme Court ruled that people cannot be detained simply because they cannot afford to pay cash bail.

Can you post your own bail in Texas? ›

Posting Bail Yourself: Can You Do It? In short: Yes. You can post your own bail bonds in Texas if you have the funds on your or on your credit card that is in your possession at the time of your arrest.

What is excessive bail? ›

Excessive bail is an amount of bail ordered to be posted by an accused defendant which is much more than necessary or usual to ensure they will make court appearances particularly in relation to minor crimes.

Is bail set at a higher than an amount reasonably calculated to fulfill its purpose excessive? ›

Bail is “excessive” in violation of the Eighth Amendment when it is set at a figure higher than an amount reasonably calculated to ensure the asserted governmental interest.

How much can a surety bond be in Texas? ›

For a notary to apply for their notary permit from the state of Texas, the applicant must submit a valid notary surety bond with a coverage amount of $10,000. Texas notary bonds are available instantly from Surety Bonds Direct for a one-time fee, with no credit check when you apply.

What is the average percentage amount for a bail bond in Texas? ›

In Texas, the average amount you pay the bail bondsman for service fees is about 10 percent. The topic of bail will be addressed by the court at your first court appearance, usually arraignment or magistration.

How much do you have to put down on a bail bond in Texas? ›

To secure a bail bond, the defendant (or a representative of the defendant) must pay a bail bondsman approximately 10% to 20% of the total amount of the bail.

What is the Texas bail Reform Act? ›

The duties imposed under 17.15(a)(6) apply starting April 1, 2022. S.B. 6 amends Article 1.07 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to require any person to be eligible for bail unless denial of bail is expressly permitted by the Texas Constitution or by other law.

What is the Texas bail reform bill? ›

A BILL TO BE ENTITLED AN ACT relating to rules for setting the amount of bail, to the release of certain defendants on a monetary bond or personal bond, to related duties of certain officers taking bail bonds and of a magistrate in a criminal case, to charitable bail organizations, and to the reporting of information ...

What is one likely reason the Texas Legislature adopted bail reforms in 2017? ›

What is one likely reason the Texas Legislature adopted bail reforms in 2017? There were concerns about re-offenses for those who could not afford to pay their bail. In the past decade, incarceration rates in Texas have been on the rise.

What is bail reform? ›

New York's bail law currently eliminates money bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies. Those accused of these crimes are either freed without restrictions while their case plays out, or released under certain conditions like electronic monitoring.

Is the Texas bill to require cash bail? ›

Texas bill to require cash bail for those accused of violent crimes becomes law. Senate Bill 6 will bar those accused of violent crimes from being released from jail before trial unless they can put up cash. That provision of the bill will go into effect Dec. 2.

Does Texas have a no bail law? ›

There is no Federal constitutional right to pretrial bail. All pretrial bail rights in the State are based on the Texas Constitution. Offenders who are denied bail at this stage include capital felons and repeat felons.

How did the Bail Reform Act of 1966 change the bail system? ›

The Bail Reform Act of 1966 was an attempt to improve the bail system for defendants. For the first time, arrestees charged with non-capital crimes had the statutory right to release before their trial. To secure discharge, defendants had to either pay the bail upfront or get assistance from a bail bondsman.

What is Article 3 of the Texas Constitution? ›

3. ELECTION AND TERM OF OFFICE OF SENATORS. The Senators shall be chosen by the qualified voters for the term of four years; but a new Senate shall be chosen after every apportionment, and the Senators elected after each apportionment shall be divided by lot into two classes.

What was the Bail Reform Act of 1966 associated with? ›

The 1966 Federal Bail Reform Act created a presumption of release for defendants on their own recognizance in non-capital cases unless the judge could not adequately assure the defendant's appearance at trial.

What states have gotten rid of bail? ›

Since 2014, New Jersey and Alaska have enacted reforms that have abolished cash bail for the majority of cases. These states now give defendants a supervised release or mandatory detention, with the conditions determined with a risk assessment.

What states have passed bail reform? ›

But it is important to note that California, New Mexico, Kentucky, Nebraska, Indiana, New York and New Jersey have all successfully made some type of changes to their bail laws — each varying on a state-by-state basis…..

Is cash bail unconstitutional? ›

In Robinson v. California, the Supreme Court held that it is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment to punish an individual for a status or condition. Poverty is a status. The cash bail system is unconstitutional under Robinson and the Eighth Amendment because it punishes the status of poverty.

What is Texas Senate bill 51? ›

Senate Bill 51 is intended to prevent retroactive recovery of payments for medical services provided in good faith prior to the retroactive disenrollment of the employee by encouraging timely notification by employers.

What is House bill 6 in Texas? ›

The purpose of this Act is to exercise the legislature's constitutional authority under Section 4, Article VI, Texas Constitution, to make all laws necessary to detect and punish fraud and preserve the purity of the ballot box.

What is Senate bill 460 Texas? ›

SB 460 requires instruction in the detection and education of students with mental or emotional disorders as part of educator training programs.


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