To the average Texan, there might not appear to be any type of link between bail and how some defendants plea. However, a recent study found that whether people are assigned bail for their state crime charges greatly impacts the rate at which people plea guilty. This link has some questioning just how appropriate it is to continue booking people into jail when they are financially incapable of shelling out hefty fines.
In general, the amount that bail is set at is based upon an alleged criminal charge and not upon a person’s actual ability to pay. Even though the law presumes that all defendants are innocent unless proven otherwise beyond a reasonable doubt, 6,800 individuals are currently incarcerated in a single Texas county simply for not being wealthy enough to pay. Advocates for these and other individuals claim that this system unfairly marginalizes the poorest citizens while giving otherwise wealthy alleged offenders a pass to pay up and walk free.
The impact of being held on bail can be seriously damaging. Many people who are unable to pay cite further financial strain on their employment, family and housing situation. In the case of a mother who was charged with failing to have a proper ID behind the wheel, her inability to pay a $5,000 bail separated her from her two young children — one of whom has special needs and therefore requires specialized care — for nearly a week.
While it might be difficult to understand how a mother can be legally separated from her children for an otherwise minor charge, the 55 people who could not pay bail and later died in jail from 2009 to 2015 might be even more disconcerting. An advocate group is currently taking action in an attempt to change how bail is set. For the time being, most Texas defendants must still contend with the realities of having bail set for state crime charges. However, a person’s ability to pay does not necessarily indicate that they will proceed in a certain manner, and careful preparation alongside their respective counsels can help ensure that they achieve the most favorable outcome possible.
Source: salon.com, “Criminal injustice in Texas: Thousands stay jailed in just one county because they can’t pay bail and it’s happening all over the U.S.“, Eesha Pandit, June 5, 2016