Study shows misdemeanor bond reform led most defendants to skip court

There is no federally mandated criminal obligation reform. Some criminal district court judges have taken it upon themselves to grant multiple felony bails to repeat violent offenders.

But misdemeanor bond reform is mandatory, and some say it has created a chaotic misdemeanor justice system.

RELATED: Harris County Criminal Court judge discusses defendants with multiple criminal liabilities

Maranda O’Donnell, 28, has half a dozen mugshots and as many misdemeanor charges for crimes including impaired driving, drugs and theft.

She’s the reason a federal judge implemented the O’Donnell Executive Order in 2019.

He demanded that no one in Harris County charged with a misdemeanor be required to post cash bond.

“In the misdemeanor court, they don’t get bail. They’re told to show up for court on that date, obviously they don’t show up,” said Douglas Griffith, president of the Houston Police Union.

MORE BREAKING BOND COVERAGE

The Houston Police Union commissioned this study. All information came from the Harris County District Clerk and the Texas Office of Courts Administration.

“It’s just amazing what happens in the correctional courts,” Griffith said. “They can’t keep up. There are so many cases, they can’t keep up, because they’re continually resetting cases.”

The study covered the week of October 11 to October 15, 2021.

About 9,000 cases were on the docket of Harris County’s 16 criminal courts.

According to the study, during that week, out of 100 cases on the docket, just under 16% of the accused appeared in court.

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In cases where defendants were ordered to appear in court, more than 76% did not show up.

The study also indicates that almost 72% of misdemeanor cases were dismissed by the courts in 2020 and 2021.

By comparison in 2011, only around 26% of misdemeanor cases were dismissed.

“What they’re doing is trying to reduce the backlog, so the system doesn’t collapse,” Griffith said. “This is where we are in the Harris County court system. It will collapse if they continue at this rate and where will we be then?”

The study found that most correctional courts do not issue bond forfeitures. This means that most county criminal courts do nothing to hold defendants accountable when they do not show up.

Denise W. Whigham