For more than a year, Harris County has been caught in a legal drama over how it jails inmates who cannot afford to pay bail.

The U.S. Supreme Court dealt the most recent blow to Harris County’s controversial bail system on Wednesday, refusing to halt a federal appeals court ruling from earlier this week.

The federal ruling greenlighted the release of misdemeanor inmates held in the Harris County Jail who couldn’t afford to post cash bonds. Sheriff Ed Gonzalez prepared for the release of as many as 177 people starting Wednesday morning.

The case began when single mother Maranda O’Donnell was arrested and held for two days on $2,500 bail for driving without a valid license. Civil rights groups Texas Fair Defense Project and Civil Rights Corps, as well as Houston law firm Susman Godfrey, filed the lawsuit last year on behalf of ODonnell.

Houston Chronicle reporter Gabrielle Banks says civil rights groups were looking for a big county like Harris to establish a case against unfair jailing of poorer citizens for low-level offenses.

“The concept is that pre-trial, you’re not guilty,” Banks says. “There are people who have the money or borrow the money and they walk out the door. They go on with their lives. They retain their jobs. They continue to make payments on their cars, their child support. Then, there are people who don’t have the money or the resources. It really does affect the rest of their lives to spend two, three or four days a month in the jail because they can’t get out.”

Harris County still has the option to ask another justice or the full Supreme Court to reconsider Justice Clarence Thomas’ ruling.

“This was kind of the equivalent of a death penalty stay,” Banks says of the Supreme Court’s recent refusal. “[Harris County] asked for a stay of the order and [Justice Thomas] just batted it down. They can go right back to another justice with this or they can go to the whole panel of justices and try again. It’s unlikely that they will, but they could.”


Written by Rachel Rascoe.

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  • Jarvis Patterson June 8, 2017 at 11:41 pm

    I am facing a similar issue like this in Dallas Texas Dallas County issue a warrant for my arrest for a crime that I did not commit. Thank God I was able to bond out of jail so that I can fight this head on. After bonding out I track down the detective that issued the warrant and I went in on sat down and I spoke with him to let him know I did not commit this crime and I told him the suspects that did. It was just like talking to a brick wall so I guess that makes me Guilty By Association. This Turoni’s charges impeding on my life I can’t get a job in either even if I could afford a attorney I couldn’t work to pay for one because this charge is hanging over my head. Everytime I think about this it makes my heart hardened against Dallas County officials. I reached out to my local official Jason idea I have not heard back from his office I’ve also contacted Ted Cruz office I have not heard back from his office and have also sent an email out to the Attorney General’s office I don’t know how long it takes for an email to be answered but I feel like everyone is turning a deaf ear to my situation. I plan to protest by myself I’m going to go downtown I’m going to make a poster board and I’m just going to write what I feel because I do have that right to protest for something that I believe in and I did not commit this crime and they are trying to put a noose around my neck and hang me it’s just a modern-day hanging of a black man. I’m screaming for help and no one will help me so I don’t know what to do next