Harris County boasts the largest population in Texas and third-most populous in the country. Their commissioners are adding another accolade by blazing a new and highly historic trail that strengthened the presumption of innocence. The decision could serve as a game-changer with implementation going nationwide.
However, the path to making history was not without its share of bumps along the way.
The quest started with a class-action lawsuit filed by indigent residents taking issue with what they claimed was a two-tiered justice system. Referred to as a "harmful process" by a county judge, failing to pay cash bail would put them in jail until their trial. However, non-indigents facing similar charges were released and awaited their fate in the comfort of their own homes.
Harris County fought hard the moment they were served with the class-action lawsuit in 2016, to the tune of legal fees totaling $10 million that included not only the underlying lawsuit but also two appeals.
A historic settlement being compared by some to Brown v. The Board of Education may cause a seismic shift as to whether or not defendants are forced to stay in jail pending their trial. Defendants can now post a personal bond for release. They will also have access to comprehensive public defense services and safety measures to ensure that they appear on their court date. Ongoing monitoring will document the positives and negatives of the new process.
The decision could serve as a game-changer with implementation going nationwide.