Judges working towards Dallas County bail reform

For more than a year, Dallas County has been figuring out what to do about its cash bail system.

There's still a battle about it in federal court. But some judges have decided to move forward with a change they proposed earlier this year.

Tiara Cooper’s first offense was in 2013. She faced three counts of forgery and spent 90 days in jail because she could not afford bail.

“I do know I was wrong for what I did,” she said. “But the fact that other people are coming in doing the same thing I did, they are just as wrong as me. But if they have the money, they can go home to their families and work out their case.”

In 2018, a federal judge ruled Dallas County’s bail system unconstitutional deeming it unfair to defendants who may spend weeks behind bars because they couldn’t afford bail. The judge gave the county a January deadline to comply. District court judges unveiled a plan by that deadline. Since then, there hasn’t been much movement.

Some, like Judge Brandon Birmingham, are making the changes on their own.

“If we can get that information to a judge early in the process and have both sides have an opportunity to be heard, a judge can make a better decision,” he said.

Birmingham is holding bail review hearings for defendants who are in custody for 48 hours. It gives them a chance to meet the judge with the help from a lawyer.

“I, as the elected judge, will look into it. The only reason they are in is because they don’t have any money,” the judge said. “And if the only reason they are in is because they don’t have any money, they need to be out unless they are a danger to the community.”

Birmingham has had about 150 bail review hearings so far. He says in some cases, he reduced bond. In others, he felt the amount fit the crime.

“I think we are in the process of change,” he said. “Change for the better.”

The lawsuit against Dallas County on bail reform is ongoing. Appeals have been filed.

But Judge Birmingham says there is some movement in the case, and he hopes reform to be permanent soon.