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Dallas County Private Bail Hearings Leave People Languishing Behind Bars

by Kevin Bliss

Shannon Daves and five others have filed a federal class-action suit against Dallas County, Texas, due to their secret bail hearings that last under a minute. The hearings are not open to the public or press, and bail is set by a predetermined schedule without consideration for the defendants’ circumstances or financial means.

The suit alleges that Dallas detainees are not receiving a meaningful opportunity to challenge bail. Many pleaded guilty at their first court dates, so they could receive a sentence of time served and obtain release.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the Civil Rights Corps of Washington, D.C. represent Daves, who has been joined by the Texas Organization Project and Faith in Texas, two advocacy organizations helping challenge private bail hearings. They claim that Dallas County’s current procedure jails the poorest people of the county without serious inquiry into their ability to pay.

Daves is a 47-year-old unemployed, homeless woman who was charged with misdemeanor shoplifting. After a 20-second hearing, bail was set at $500. Daves could not afford to pay and was placed in 24-hour solitary confinement until the court date because she was transgender.

Daves said, “Judges are only concerned with getting you booked into the system. It’s all so impersonal.”

The county began providing an assessment of the arrestees financial resources in February. With the number of homeless defendants, these crucial documents were supposed to help judges set affordable bails. Yet, the defendants state that bail is still being set well beyond their means without any discussion of their likelihood of returning to court or any of the facts of the alleged crime.

In April 2017, a federal court judge ruled Harris County’s bail system unconstitutional. Similar to Dallas County’s, Chief Judge Lee H. Rosenthal said the Harris County bail system disproportionately affected the poor.

So far this year, only 23 percent of detainees have been able to afford bail in Dallas County. 


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