Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton yesterday filed a statement with the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, opposing a consent decree the parties plan to enter in O’Donnell v. Harris County, a lawsuit challenging the Harris County bail system. With no input from the Supreme Court of Texas or the Texas Legislature, the proposed consent decree would eliminate the ability of judges in Harris County to make case-by-case determinations regarding the proper bail for most criminal defendants, raising serious federalism and separation-of-powers concerns.
Under the proposed consent decree, magistrate judges are required to immediately release persons arrested for misdemeanor offenses and select felonies, including assault, burglary of a vehicle, unlawfully carrying a weapon, and cruelty to animals.
“Not only is releasing criminals without individualized consideration of the circumstances of the offense or their criminal history completely contrary to Texas law, it presents serious dangers to public safety,” Attorney General Paxton said. “This consent decree is at odds with Texas law, the proper role of the judiciary, and the obligation to protect the people of Texas from violent criminals.”
Unfortunately, Houston has already seen the negative impact of this proposed consent decree. In September, a man named Brandon Bell was arrested for carjacking, but only charged with trespass to a motor vehicle. After Bell was released with no bail payment or individual assessment of the crime or Bell’s criminal history, he failed to appear at his scheduled court date. Just three days later, he committed a second carjacking at gunpoint, assaulted, robbed, and attempted to murder a priest, then committed a third carjacking. His crime spree ended when he engaged police in a shootout, which resulted in Bell’s death and a veteran officer being shot three times.
To view a copy of the statement filed in the District Court, click here.