Appeals Panel Upholds Much Of Harris County Bail Ruling That Cited ‘Wealth-Based Detention’

A panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that bail created a burden on poor defendants.

By Jill AmentFebruary 15, 2018 11:15 am

An appeals court confirmed the bail system in the state’s most populous county treated the rich differently from the poor.

Yesterday the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a major part of Chief U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal’s ruling that Harris County’s bail system was unfair to the poor.

Rosenthal’s lengthy ruling said that Harris County engaged in what the judge called “wealth-based detention,” holding that defendants were being required to pay bail in cases of minor crimes.

Gabrielle Banks covers the federal court for the Houston Chronicle, and has been reporting on this case for two years, says the impact of bail requirements falls more heavily on the poor.

“Oftentimes, because people’s jobs were on the line – their families, their livelihoods – people would just plead guilty. And they would get a criminal record,” Banks says.

The appeals court upheld that portion of Rosenthal’s order, Banks says and “nitpicked” at details of the order.

“For one thing, [the county complained] that judges didn’t have enough discretion,” she says. “They wanted judges to have more of a say about who got out on these indigent releases.”

The 5th Circuit asked that the timeline for releasing those not subject to bail be extended from 24 to 48 hours.

The case now goes back to Judge Rosenthal.

Written by Shelly Brisbin.