WASHINGTON, D. C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today announced that he has joined nearly 70 current and former law-enforcement officials from more than 30 states in signing a friend-of-the-court brief in opposition to the use of cash bail for misdemeanor crimes. The coalition of current and former state attorneys general, local prosecutors, U.S. Attorneys, and U.S. Department of Justice officials filed the brief with the United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in support of a class-action suit challenging the cash bail practices in Harris County, Texas (home to Houston).
“Being poor isn’t a crime, and our bail systems shouldn’t make it one. The District of Columbia long ago did away with a cash bail system because it punishes indigent defendants, their families, and their broader communities,” Attorney General Racine said. “I applaud Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg’s courageous stand in opposition to this unjust and counterproductive system in her jurisdiction, and I am proud to stand with my fellow prosecutors from around the country and support her.”
The brief argues that the current system in Harris County unconstitutionally discriminates against indigent defendants, and that a different system that doesn’t rely on a defendant’s ability to put up large sums of money immediately is both fairer and more productive. “Reformed jurisdictions base pretrial release decisions on individualized determinations of flight risk and dangerousness, and utilize non-financial conditions of release with pretrial supervision where appropriate,” the brief says. “In the experience of amici, these types of reformed bail practices not only are more effective than money bail at ensuring appearance, but also contribute to the legitimacy of the criminal justice system, enhance public safety, better address the underlying causes of misdemeanor offenses and recidivism, and ultimately save taxpayers money.”
Other groups – representing law enforcement officials, faith leaders, and others – also filed briefs in the case supporting an end to cash bail for defendants accused of misdemeanors.
In addition to Attorney General Racine, 14 current elected prosecutors signed the brief, including Kim Ogg, the Harris County District Attorney; as well as the attorneys general from Maryland and Vermont; and elected local district attorneys and state’s attorneys Mark Gonzalez (Corpus Christi, Texas), Cy Vance (New York), George Gascon (San Francisco), John Chisholm (Milwaukee), Raul Torrez (Albuquerque), Mark Dupree (Kansas City, Kan.), Scott Colom (Columbus, Miss.), Christian Gossett (Winnebago County, Wis.), Marilyn Mosby (Baltimore), Carol Siemon (East Lansing, Mich.) and Lynneice Washington (Birmingham). Taken together, these elected prosecutors represent more than 11 million people.
“We appreciate the national interest and concern regarding the constitutional battle for bail reform in Harris County,” District Attorney Ogg said. “Eliminating economic status as the determining factor in depriving unconvicted individuals of their liberty is essential to the integrity of our justice system. Harris County's wealth-based bail system has for decades inflicted punishment on poor people before guilt has been proven, while releasing those with money into our communities even when the offenders were dangerous. As the chief prosecutor, we must level the playing field in order to preserve the public's trust and safety.”