Federal judge rules against Dallas County bail practices

North Tower Detention Facility in Dallas on Jan. 20, 2017.
North Tower Detention Facility in Dallas on Jan. 20, 2017.
Robert Hart for The Texas Tribune

Taking a cue from the rulings on Harris County’s bail-setting practices, a U.S. District Judge in Dallas issued a temporary order Thursday evening saying the county’s post-arrest procedures likely violate inmates’ constitutional rights. The judge gave the county a laundry list of changes to implement within the next 30 days.

U.S. District Judge David Godbey in Dallas said that the county has to stop the practice of imposing pre-set bail bond amounts, which often keep poor defendants locked up while letting wealthier ones go free, without individual consideration. He sided with the plaintiffs’ allegation that the county uses “wealth-based detention.”

“Wealthy arrestees — regardless of the crime they are accused of — who are offered secured bail can pay the requested amount and leave,” Godbey wrote. “Indigent arrestees in the same position cannot.”

Several poor defendants in the Dallas County jail sued the county in January on the heels of a ruling in Harris County that has disrupted bail practices there. The civil rights groups that represent the plaintiffs in both lawsuits have sued cash-based bail systems all over the country.

The main difference between the two lawsuits, as Godbey pointed out in his opinion, is that the Dallas lawsuit includes felony defendants, whereas Harris’ only includes misdemeanors, which are more often nonviolent cases.



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