Our challenge to the money bail system in Harris County is the seminal challenge to the assembly line wealth-based detention that pervades local American courts.
The case challenges the automatic wealth-based detention of tens of thousands of impoverished people every year in Houston, Texas. In 2017, we put the Harris County money bail system on trial in federal court in Houston. The court considered hundreds of exhibits, thousands of videos, hundreds of thousands of records, and numerous live expert and factual witnesses over an eight-day evidentiary hearing. The Chief Judge of the federal court in Houston issued a 193-page ruling in favor of our indigent clients, holding that the Harris County cash bail system is unconstitutional. The Court dismantled the supposed factual and legal justifications for the wealth-based detention that exists all over the country.
In November 2019, Chief U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal gave final approval to a landmark settlement that transforms the misdemeanor money bail system in Harris County. Under the new Rules, we anticipate 90-95% of people charged with misdemeanors will be released while they fight their cases. This means tens of thousands of people will remain in their communities, with their families, in their homes, and in their jobs. It will collectively save poor families millions of dollars each year. And it will ensure that decisions about who is freed and who is jailed will not be based on money.
A companion challenge to the felony money bail system in Harris County is ongoing.