During the 2018 midterm election, Harris County voted to make changes to a bail system that unfairly penalized poor people who can’t afford to make bail payments. Republicans fought for years against reforms ordered by federal district court Judge Lee Rosenthal that were intended to repair a money bail system that had been ruled unconstitutional.

According to Judge Rosenthal, “wealth-based detention” was a violation of an inmate’s right to due process and equal protection. The Harris County Commissioners Court and county officials came to the consensus that the cash bail system unfairly penalized poor who can’t afford to make bail payments. However, some judges complained that they had done enough to reform the system and Rosenthal’s order deprived them of their judicial discretion.

Thanks to a record turnout driven by anti- Trump sentiment, the 2018 midterm election resulted in a Democratic sweep of Harris County that changed every bench on the ballot. The new judges settled the lawsuit over Judge Rosenthal orders and have begun working with Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and District Attorney Kim Ogg to approve major changes to the bail system as part of the settlement.

According to Judge Darrell Jordan, 85% of the people arrested on misdemeanors might be eligible for release on no-cash bonds thanks to the changes coming under the new system. Exceptions for release on no-cash bonds includes cases that require a 48 hour waiting period for the following:

  • Bond violations
  • Repeat drunk driving offenses
  • Domestic violence charges

Other counties in Texas are starting to head in the same direction as Harris County. Lawyers who were involved in the Harris County lawsuit filed a similar one in Dallas. However, the lawsuit in Dallas features defendants facing felony charges.

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