Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upholds ruling finding Harris County misdemeanor bail practices unconstitutional

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The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reportedly decided earlier this week to uphold most of U.S. District Court Judge Lee H. Rosenthal’s ruling, which declared Harris County’s misdemeanor crime bail practices unconstitutional.

The class action lawsuit filed to change Harris County bail practices alleged bail to be keeping people too poor to pay improperly incarcerated until their trail, while those with money could just pay the amount and be free to live their lives until their court date.

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Records show a panel of three judges in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals voted to uphold this part of the ruling, provided in part how they found the county’s bail process failing to protect people from bails imposed as “an instrument of oppression,” according to the Houston Chronicle:

“[Indigent people] sustain an absolute deprivation of their most basic liberty interests — freedom from incarceration,” members of the panel wrote as part of their decision.

Houston Sheriff Ed Gonzales issued a statement Wednesday following the ruling, expalining he is “encouraged by today’s ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit upholding the trial court’s finding that Harris County’s old bail system is in need of change.”

The federal case result comes after a 2016 lawsuit filed by Maranda ODonnell, a single mother who reportedly spent two nights in prison when she couldn’t pay a $2,500 bond imposed upon her for driving with an invalid license.

Appeals court judges ultimately did make some changes to the ruling, finding Rosenthal’s order to extend no-cash bail to all indigent defendants as “overly broad,” as well as her demand for all qualifying defendants be released within 24 hours to be “too onerous.”

Instead, they suggest defendants be given 48 hours from the time of their arrest to contest their bail in a formal hearing, where they can then argue for a low or no cost bond.

If the judicial officer doesn’t lower the bond, the official would be required to explain why in writing, and the arrestee would get another bail hearing before a judge.

If, 48 hours after a person is arrested there is no proof of bail review, they would then be released at no charge, according to the Texas Tribune.

The Fifth Circuit Appeals judges also removed the Harris County Sheriff, originally listed as one of the defendants, from the lawsuit.

Alec Karakatsanis, an attorney for the defendants, said he and his team will work to “craft a system that does not violate the Constitution and devastate tens of thousands of human beings and their families every year.”

Tom Berg of the Harris County District Attorney’s office provided in a statement he is looking forward to “assisting the parties in making the additional refinements suggested by the court:”

“We hold out hope that with this additional decision, the parties can finally reach resolution in this prolonged and costly case,” the statement reads further.

The case will reportedly be sent back to Rosenthal for a modified ruling, and, in the meantime, the district court’s original ruling will stand.

RELATED: HPD officer’s union says changes needed for Texas bond laws after Houstonians’ arrest in California

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