Here's your get out of jail free card

By Andreea Ionescu • Updated on February 05, 2018

Many people with limited resources live in fear of being arrested because regardless of being guilty or innocent, an arrest alone can irrevocably disrupt someone’s life. Given that approximately 41.3 million American people are living below the poverty line and many Americans have little to no savings, we could be facing a serious problem as a nation.

Whenever someone is placed under arrest, and are unable to make bail, they may remain in jail for several days or even weeks.  Once released, they may face the loss of their jobs, unpaid debts or even loss of their home. Because of this, many are willing to accept plea deals from the state that they otherwise would not have taken.

This situation may be especially oppressive if the arrestee is eventually acquitted of any wrongdoing.

In a recent lawsuit against Harris County, a group of attorneys convinced a federal judge that the current bail system is fundamentally unfair because it detains indigent people for low level offenses simply because they can’t afford to pay the bail.  On April 28, 2017, an injunction was ordered, that would temporarily prevent Harris County from holding people on misdemeanor charges if they can not afford to pay the bail.

Under the preliminary injunction, all arrestees at the Harris County and Houston Jails will be required to undergo an interview about their financial situations. If they have no additional holds, and are eligible for release, they will be released on personal recognizance at their first probable cause hearing.

The judge may order the person released on pre trial bond to observe a number of conditions such as GPS monitoring, curfews, driving restrictions, and random drug tests.  Once released, the person will be responsible for making sure they comply with these conditions and are present for court dates. If they violate any of the conditions imposed by the judge, they may be returned to jail and required to post the bond amount.

The injunction is effective May 15, 2017, and will remain in place until the lawsuit is resolved. It does not apply to felony charges. It also does not apply to domestic violence cases or those with misdemeanor charges who have holds for other matters. 

While this is not a huge change, it is definitely a step in the right direction in an effort to provide people with an honest chance to fight their case in court.