Texas Governor Signs New Bail Reform Law Requiring Cash Bails For Some Offenses

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has once again made his appearance known at the Safer Houston Summit on Monday after he signed Senate Bill 6, dubbed as the Damon Allen Act or the so-called bail reform bill, into law in Texas.

Photo credit: Houston Chronicle

According to reports, the law will require offenders accused of violent crimes to pay cash to get out of jail. It will bar those charged with violent crimes from posting a personal recognizance bond or a no-cash bond.

The law would also create a statewide system to provide criminal history information to any judge considering bail. It was named as such in the honor of the slain State Trooper Damon Allen, ABC 13 reported.

Photo credit: KXAN

“The Damon Allen Act makes it harder for dangerous criminals to be released from jail on bail,” Abbott said at the Houston bill-signing ceremony Monday.

The reaction to the bill is split two ways: with the proponents saying that the law will help to keep violent offenders off the streets. On the flip side, those who are in opposition say that it will create additional hardships for offenders of limited financial means.

Republican Sen. Paul Bettencourt said: “There really are people that should not be in the community. They should not be given a personal recognizance bond.” He said that people are being “released like popcorn on PR bonds, and they ended up killing somebody” so it is necessary to realign the scales of justice which is what the bill is advocating for.

“We’ve got to realign the scales of justice to where we’re not releasing the same, you know, violent criminal element back on the streets,” he said.

Meanwhile, Carson White, staff attorney with Texas Appleseed, doesn’t believe the bill will be very effective. Instead White said that it underscores the difference between those with money and those without.

“Cash bail has nothing to do with public safety. All it means is that if you have resources, you have money, you can pay your way out of custody, and if you’re poor, you sit in jail,” said White.

Just like White, the other critics of the bill say that it will simply discriminate against people from low-income and marginalized backgrounds.

“This matters for people who are what I call the poorest of the poor, who simply don’t [have] access [to] the financial resources to pay cash bail or to pay a bondsman,” said Amanda Woog, executive director of the Texas Fair Defense Project.

The bill also comes with a set of guidelines saying that judges would have to go through training and consider a defendant’s criminal history before setting bail.

“If they’ve taken into consideration all the factors, including their ability to pay, and they set a bond that they cannot afford, then the constitutional requirements have been met, and then it’s just, that’s what the impact of their risk to public safety is,” said Ken W. Good, attorney and board member of the Professional Bondsmen of Texas.

Some other critics also said that banning personal bond release for certain criminal defendants awaiting trial is troubling because it shifts the “presumption of innocence” to “presumption of guilt”.

“Everyone should be concerned about how this bill, in some ways, shifts this idea that people should be presumed innocent, to a presumption of guilt, and that people should be held in jail pretrial. That is not what the norm is supposed to be under our Constitution,” said Woog.

Civil rights organizations are also all set to to issue legal challenges to the new bail reform law.