5th Circuit Affirms harris County bAIL Practices Unconstitutional

Read The 5th Circuit Opinion

A Historic victory in the fight to end wealth based pretrial detention

On April 28, the Chief Judge of the federal court in Houston issued a 193 page ruling in our favor, holding that the Harris County money bail system is unconstitutional.

This is the most consequential and impressive judicial ruling that we have been a part of.  The judge considered hundreds of exhibits, thousands of videos, hundreds of thousands of records, and numerous live expert and factual witnesses over an 8 day trial.  The decision applies to over 50,000 misdemeanor arrestees in Harris County every year, and it should have sweeping effects across the entire country.  

The opinion destroys the supposed justifications of the American wealth-based pretrial detention system in devastating factual and legal detail. 

Harris County and its judges have appealed this historic decision, and we're currently arguing before the Fifth Circuit. You can read updates on this process below. 



fifth circuit court of appeals hears oral arguments


Fifth circuit briefs filed on appeal

The brief filed by CRC and its co-counsel, arguing for the unconstitutionality of the money bail system

Brief defending the County Court at Law Judges' use of the money bail system


A dozen amicus briefs filed in support of our case

Our supporters as our case is considered on appeal include 67 current and former district attorneys, US Attorneys, state attorneys general, and governors, as well as current and former Chiefs of Police, Sheriffs, and corrections officials. This broad coalition will help us show that money bail does not make sense from a civil rights or public safety perspective.

Read the full amicus briefs here 

supreme Court justice has denied the county's motion to stay; historic injunction will go in effect

The preliminary injunction begins to go into affect in Harris County, with more than 100 people released from the jail so far. 

Read more in this Houston Chronicle article. 

federal JUDGE denies COUNTY'S MoTION TO stay

Read the full decision here

Media coverage

Locked Up for Being Poor

The New York Times Editorial Board

"Maranda Lynn ODonnell, a 22-year-old single mother in Harris County, Tex., was arrested last year for driving without a valid license. The judge set her bail at $2,500. She couldn’t afford anything close to that, so she spent three days in jail — even though she posed no risk of skipping town or endangering anyone if she were released.

"'In our society,' the Supreme Court has held, 'liberty is the norm, and detention prior to trial or without trial is the carefully limited exception.' Yet across America, poor people like Ms. ODonnell are held in jail for days, weeks or even months solely because they don’t have the cash to bail themselves out. All of them are presumed innocent under the law, and many may in fact be innocent, yet most plead guilty just to get out (usually with a sentence of time served). It’s a repulsive practice, and last week, in a case that could have national implications for bail reform, a Federal District Court judge in Houston ruled that it was also unconstitutional."


Judge in Houston Strikes Down Harris County’s Bail System

Eli Rosenberg, The New York Times

"A federal judge in Houston has overturned the county’s bail system for people charged with low-level crimes after finding that it disproportionately affected indigent residents and violated the Constitution.

"The judge, Lee H. Rosenthal of Federal District Court, ordered Harris County to stop keeping people who have been arrested on misdemeanor charges in jail because they cannot pay bail."


In Historic Decision, Federal Judge Says Harris County Bail System Is Unfair to the Poor

Megan Flynn, Houston Press

"In a historic decision, a federal judge has found that Harris County's bail system infringes on the rights of poor people charged with non-violent offenses, granting a preliminary injunction against the county and forcing immediate changes on the county's bail system."


Harris County bail system unconstitutional, federal judge rules

Gabrielle Banks, Houston Chronicle

"A federal judge in Houston Friday issued a scathing denouncement of Harris County's cash bail system, saying it is fundamentally unfair to detain indigent people arrested for low-level offenses simply because they can't afford to pay bail."


In Fight Over Bail’s Fairness, a Sheriff Joins the Critics

Michael Hardy, The New York Times

"HOUSTON — It was an awkward scene for officials of Harris County, Texas, who are defending themselves in federal court against a claim that they keep poor defendants locked up just because they cannot afford bail.

"On Wednesday a judge and the county sheriff testified for the other side."



Claiming Some People "Want to Be in Jail," County Loses Argument to Delay Bail Lawsuit

Megan Flynn - Houston Press

"A federal judge denied Harris County's emergency motion Tuesday to put a lawsuit accusing its bail system of being unconstitutional on hold until the county has a chance to implement reforms it has been promising for months."


Group Sues Harris County Over Bail System That Keeps People in Jail Just Because They're Poor

Megan Flynn, Houston Press

"On Wednesday, 22-year-old Maranda O'Donnell was driving to her mom's house to pick up her four-year-old daughter. Then she got pulled over, and she never made it there."


 Lines of defendants and their families stretch around the block on a typical morning outside the Harris County criminal courts  (Photo taken January 26, 2017)

Lines of defendants and their families stretch around the block on a typical morning outside the Harris County criminal courts

(Photo taken January 26, 2017)