Lawsuit says Dallas County bail system unfairly harms poor
DALLAS (AP) — Civil rights groups have filed a federal lawsuit accusing Dallas County’s bail system of violating the constitutional rights of poor individuals by keeping them jailed because they cannot afford to pay a bond.
The lawsuit alleges the county’s bail system does not consider a jailed defendant’s ability to pay to post bond, resulting in different treatment in the criminal justice system.
“The situation in Dallas County Jail is a crisis,” said Trisha Trigilio, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas. “Like hundreds of people Dallas keeps locked in jail every day, our clients were never asked if they could afford the bail they were assigned. A judicial system where the amount of money in a bank account is the only thing standing between a defendant and her freedom is not a system interested in dispensing justice.”
The lawsuit claims that “while wealthier arrestees are released from custody almost immediately upon payment of money” to the county, arrestees like the plaintiffs who are “too poor to purchase their freedom” remain jailed “because of their poverty.”
In a statement, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said he supports bail reform “because some low risk suspects that don’t need to be there are held in Texas jails at taxpayer expense simply because they can’t afford to bond out.”
“I look forward to working with everyone to enact bail reform and other criminal justice reforms that will strengthen the community,” he said.
The lawsuit was filed by four nonprofits on Sunday on behalf of six Dallas County inmates. It accuses officials of operating a two-tiered system of justice based on wealth, in violation of the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The Dallas County lawsuit is similar to others that have been filed across the country in recent years.
In April 2017, U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal in Houston ruled that Harris County’s policy of detaining indigent misdemeanor defendants before trial violated equal protection rights against wealth-based discrimination and due process protections against pretrial detention. An appeal of the lawsuit in Harris County — home to Houston — is pending before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.