Could Dallas learn from Harris County’s bail reform?

Trying to find a way to end years of litigation over its bail system being unconstitutional, Harris County commissioners agreed Friday to a way to let people charged with misdemeanors out of jail without paying bail.

That decision could impact Dallas County and the federal lawsuit it's facing over the cash bail system.

People arrested in Harris County and charged with a misdemeanor will now get out of jail without ever having to post bail. Harris County commissioners signed the agreement Friday in the federal lawsuit that found Harris County's bail system unconstitutional.

“This is about complying with the constitution of the United States,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins says the lawsuits are different.

“That doesn't necessarily mean the same thing will happen in Dallas County,” he said.

Both Dallas County's misdemeanor and felony bail systems were found unconstitutional.

Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot says he can see a system where many will be able to get out of jail without posting a cash bond.

“I think that in the vast majority of misdemeanors, especially first-time misdemeanor cases, you’re probably gonna have personal recognizance bonds, which would likely be appropriate in the vast majority of those. They're going to some very low-level felony cases where a personal recognizance bond is appropriate and those people will be able to get out of jail.”

Creuzot wants prosecutors and defense attorneys to present when a person goes before a magistrate to have a bond set.

“We'll do risk assessments, criminal histories and look at the offense for which the person is charged and come to some agreement most times,” he said. “Or the judge will have advocacy from both sides as to what the appropriate bond if any should be.”

Jenkins says that is what criminal justice reform is about.

“Keeping those few right people that are dangerous in jail and letting the majority of people who are still innocent have not been found guilty of anything back out to be with their families and to await trial,” he said.

The big difference in the two counties and the two lawsuits is that the Dallas lawsuit includes bonds set in felony cases. The attorney general has said that judges who handle felony cases work for the state and not the county and have no say or jurisdiction in how bonds are set when people are booked into jail.

The Dallas lawsuit is now in the fifth circuit court of appeals.