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Christina Swarns of the NAACP.
Photo by Gary Cameron/Reuters.

After figuring out that the county’s bail system for people charged with low-level crimes was violating the constitution and affecting impoverished residents, Judge Lee H. Rosenthal of Federal District Court in Houston had the bail system overturned. Rosenthal demanded that Harris County stop keeping people in jail that had been arrested on misdemeanor charges because they could not pay bail.

The ruling for this case started because of a woman who was arrested for driving without a license and had to spend over two days in jail because she could not post bail.

Rosenthal cited statistics stating that 40 percent of people in the county that were arrested on misdemeanor charges had been kept in jail until their cases were resolved.

This order is temporary while the larger case makes its way through the courts. But groups that brought the case to the court have high hopes considering that the ruling was a win in the ‘overhauling the bail system’ movement that has been increasing throughout the country. Some say it represents a big change in the legal system.

The Size and Standing of Harris County Makes this Ruling Particularly Momentous.

According to Robert Soard, an assistant county attorney for Harris County, the county was looking over the court’s resolution and had not yet made a decision to appeal.

Due to extensive research and a series of lawsuits, many questions have surfaced about the efficacy and potential discrepancies based on income that the practice of demanding money as bail has presented. Several states, such as New Jersey and Colorado, have changed their bail systems. Other states are talking about changing theirs as well.

This Case Has Already Made Significant Changes to its Bail System.

Harris County Lawyers have stated that the case has already made significant changes to its bail system. They argue that the county’s policies follow Texas’ laws on criminal procedure law. They also argue that they do not go against the Constitution.

The order will come into effect on May 15. Those that have been arrested on misdemeanor charges will be interviewed about their financial state for an affidavit. Whether or not they can afford bail, those that qualify for release at a hearing have the choice of being released within 24 hours of their arrest.

On an average night, lawyers for the plaintiffs figure that around 500 people get arrested on misdemeanor charges.

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