Lawmakers consider bail reform, Lubbock legal experts weigh in
LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Texas lawmakers are in special session and bail reform is at the top of Governor Abbott’s list. One district judge says Lubbock is already ahead of the game.
In 2017, investigators say a suspect out on bond murdered State Trooper Damon Allen. The governor says public safety is at risk because a “broken bail system recklessly allows dangerous criminals back onto the streets.” District Judge William R. Eichman II says the concerns raised by the governor might be in other jurisdictions.
“I don’t think that letting violent criminals out is a big issue in Lubbock County. And if it becomes one, we have questions to answer,” Judge Eichman said.
Judge Eichman says Lubbock County already uses a pretrial assessment tool to set bond. That’s one proposal before state lawmakers. He says judges look at several factors to set bond, such as the nature of the alleged offense, the safety and wellbeing of the victim and community, the likeliness to show up and the ability to pay.
“I think there’s definitely a problem here. I’m not sure if either bill is necessarily going to address the problems that we have here. I see the fundamental problem that we have here, which is kind of opposite maybe than what some people think, is just across the board the bonds are being set too high,” Lubbock criminal defense lawyer Rod Hobson said.
Hobson says if the criminal justice system is a dog, bail bonds ought to be the tail. He says they provide a service, making sure people show up for court, but he wonders at what cost.
“In Lubbock, they get the first money, the bonding companies do. Well, a lot of times in the criminal justice system, that’s the only money there is, right? So, you’re letting the tail of the dog wag the whole system,” Hobson said.
Hobson says he isn’t in favor of pretrial release with no obligations. His proposed key to resolving a case is a hired or appointed lawyer for every defendant. Judge Eichman believes Lubbock County is ahead of the game as far as using tools to assess whether to give personal recognizance bonds, but there are still areas for growth.
“We have to get better, I think, in the judicial system, in setting a bond, especially on a nonviolent case, in setting a bond that is lower for someone that can’t afford it, and higher for someone that can, even if it’s the same charge,” Judge Eichman said.
Judge Eichman says the legislation would set limitations on cases in which judges can lower bonds beyond a certain point. The legislature will consider the “Damon Allen Act” in committee Saturday.
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