PRESS RELEASE: TASC Issues Statement on Rising Failure-to-Appear Rates in Harris County

PRESS RELEASE: TASC Issues Statement on Rising Failure-to-Appear Rates in Harris County

14 Houston Criminal Court at Law judges, citing irreparable harm, warn Fifth Circuit about bail reform initiatives and growing FTA rates

The Texas Alliance for Safe Communities (TASC) today issued a statement following news that fourteen Harris County Criminal Court at Law judges have demanded an injunction to stop federal Judge Lee Rosenthal’s bail reform order, citing irreparable harm to the greater Houston community.

“This past week, fourteen County Court at Law judges reaffirmed what many have known all along – bail reform is harmful to Texas communities and jeopardizes the safety of Texans,” said Mark Miner, spokesman for TASC. “Judge Rosenthal’s order has wreaked havoc on Harris County’s criminal justice system, and the threat of similar bail reform policies spreading to other Texas counties is imminent. We applaud these judges for calling into question both the bail reform movement and the ramifications of this harmful judicial order.”

In the year that has passed since Judge Rosenthal ordered the County to release virtually all misdemeanor defendants on personal bonds within 24 hours of arrest, the number of defendants who later fail to appear for their court date has steadily risen. As of last week, a whopping 49.3% of those released on Rosenthal’s unsecured bonds – an average of 20 per day – have failed to reappear in court.

That means about half of those arrested and released under the order are wandering freely about Texas communities with little to no supervision or accountability, creating a public safety nightmare in Harris County.

The Harris County Criminal Court at Law judges warned a panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that Judge Rosenthal’s order had created a “law enforcement and public safety crisis” in Harris County.

“Roughly half of all unsecured release bonds issued pursuant to the preliminary injunction have been forfeited because the arrestee failed to appear for his or her court date,” the Judges said in the court filing. “Literally thousands of criminal defendants released pursuant to the District Court’s order have evaded their day in court, and justice, by failing to appear.”

The judges added:

“The District Court’s order is wreaking havoc upon Harris County’s ability to operate a functioning criminal justice system…Accused criminals cannot be brought to justice or deterred from committing future crimes when a federal court order neuters state courts’ ability to compel those suspects to answer the charges against them and, if convicted, to serve their sentences.”

To read the County Court at Law judges’ court filing, click here.

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