The Bail Reform Lawsuit Settlement

“… had Harris County given early release on unsecured personal bonds to the lowest-risk misdemeanor arrestees between 2008 and 2013, ‘40,000 more people would have been released pretrial; nearly 6,000 convictions and 400,000 days in jail at County expense would have been avoided; those released would have committed 1,600 fewer felonies and 2,400 fewer misdemeanors in the eighteen months following pretrial release; and the County would have saved $20 million in supervision costs alone’”
ODonnell v. Harris County Consent Decree
November 21, 2019

The ODonnell Consent Decree sets out the terms of the settlement of the lawsuit brought in federal court by Maranda ODonnell and others against Harris County officials.  (See ODonnell v. Harris Cty.)  Ms. ODonnell had been arrested for driving on a suspended license and jailed when she could not afford bail set at $2,500. In the complaint, she and the other plaintiffs in the class action alleged that the county’s bail practices led to the systematic jailing of an average of 500 people per night solely on account of their inability to pay the money bail set in their misdemeanor cases. After several years of hearings and appeals, in January 2019, with the cooperation of the County Commissioners Court and the Sheriff, the misdemeanor judges promulgated new bail rules.  The new rules require prompt release on unsecured bonds for vast majority of people arrested for misdemeanor offenses.  Only people arrested for certain specified charges that carry public safety risk would not be granted prompt release, but they are now afforded a robust bail hearing at which they are represented by counsel.

These rules provided the foundation for the comprehensive Consent Decree approved by U.S. District Court Chief Judge Lee Rosenthal on November 21, 2019. The Decree sets forth a blueprint for creating a transparent pretrial system that protects the Constitutional due process and equal protection rights of misdemeanor arrestees.