Drop the name American Civil Liberties Union into a conversation in certain circles, and there’s a good chance you’ll be answered with some eye-rolling and mutterings about strident liberals and the erosion of all that made this country great.

That reaction shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what things do make this country great. Among those things are our civil rights. And what the ACLU hopes to do, as it scrutinizes the county’s legal system, is protect a sacred constitutional right. The ACLU has argued it’s unconstitutional to hold people who have been charged with misdemeanors or state jail felonies on bonds they cannot afford and has demanded the county legal system solve this problem.

While the First and Second Amendments get a lot of headlines these days, the Eighth Amendment also separates this country from politically corrupt, unstable and undemocratic nations.

The Eighth Amendment states: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” The amendment is meant to prevent us from reverting to the ways of the Old Country, where class systems spared “gentlemen” from imprisonment while the peasants rotted in jail.

The Eighth Amendment has its origin in the British Magna Carta of 1215. At its core, it’s about punishment fitting the crime. “A free man shall not be (fined) for a small offense unless according to the measure of the offense, and for a great offense he shall be (fined) according to the greatness of the offense.”

Yet, according to the ACLU and other organizations, thousands of people are routinely held in jail for low-level offenses because they lack the wherewithal to make bail. Some are held for longer than the law allows awaiting trial and for no reason except that they can’t afford bail.

People with more money accused of much more serious crimes get out and stay out. Consider New York real estate heir Robert Durst, who admitted shooting his Galveston neighbor in the head and cutting him into six pieces. Durst easily made $300,000 bail in October 2001, and while free went on the run and became a fugitive.

Americans can’t let justice become more about money than it already is.

“Everybody has just grown so used to this notion that if you are accused of a crime, you have to pay somebody some money to get out of jail,” Charles Daniels, chief justice of New Mexico’s Supreme Court, told The Marshall Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization that seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system.

“Our judges have just gotten so used to putting a price tag on your presumption of innocence.”

It’s true that courts must set bail high enough to incentivize people to show up for their trials and keep them from fleeing. It’s also true that our legal system of high fines and fees is leaving thousands of people, who’ve merely been accused — not convicted — behind bars for long periods of time.

Prolonged incarceration of people who can’t make bail or pay fines is not only unconstitutional, but is an expensive burden on American taxpayers who must pay and shelter and carry the costs of needless incarcerations. Such policies also prevent the incarcerated from returning to work or providing for their families.

The ACLU has been highly critical of the county legal system and how it handles the release of people accused of crimes. County officials and judges had their own concerns about some of the problems and had been working to improve some of them.

But some local officials are taking issue with the ACLU’s insistence that the county release persons accused of state jail felonies or misdemeanors on a cheaper personal bond.

A personal bond is a bond stating a criminal defendant will appear at all future court dates. The accused doesn’t have to post bail, but will forfeit the amount in the bond if he doesn’t appear.

“I don’t believe it’s reasonable to say let everyone out on a personal bond that has a state jail felony or below,” County Court at Law No. 3 Judge Jack Ewing told The Daily News last week.

“That’s kind of the glitch in our working with them. That’s the biggest concern.”

Ewing’s concerns are reasonable. No judge wants to be the judge who allowed someone out on a personal bond to commit a heinous crime. But we’re talking about state jail felonies — fraud, theft, burglary and the like — and misdemeanors, not ax murders. Judges need enough discretion to keep truly dangerous people locked up, but those decisions should be made on factors other than the accused’s ability to raise money, on things other than economic class status, in other words.

When poor people are locked up for longer than a wealthier person would have been, the system is broken. It’s just that simple.

• Laura Elder

 Laura Elder: 409-683-5248; laura.elder@galvnews.com

(13) comments

PD Hyatt

ACLU.... Anti Christian League Union.... Yep, that about tells a person all that they need to know about that group.... They have done nothing but get anti moral edicts passed through legislative Judges who are not supposed to legislate from the bench, but the progressive liberal Judges seem to love to add that almost every time they rule.... You might love that group but many detest what they stand for just like we detest our tax dollars going to that group.... Of course I do realize that progressives hate the way our nation was designed and built and are doing their best to destroy it.... Case in point just look at the way that they love to sacrifice innocents upon the altar of what they call convenience, and strive to release the guilty because the don't believe in killing people.... Something is out of balance with progressives....

Jim Forsythe

 If we look at the cost of electronic monitoring it make sense .Housing  Pretrial Defendants cost $56 a day. 

 GPS monitoring is a more economical way to supervise lower risk offenders and ensure public safety. The monitoring costs the county about $6 daily per offender; jail in Galveston County is $56 a day.
House arrest only costs about $6,000 per year. . 
Judges can order GPS monitoring for defendants who are released on bond or serving a sentence, or as a sanction for treatment court participants. Also enforced on monitoring are strict restrictions, including house arrest, a curfew or exclusion zones
About the size of a smartphone, the GPS units are bulky and cumbersome strapped to the ankle. They communicate with satellites and cellphone towers to track offender movement, accurate within seven feet.

"A system downloads tracking data every six hours and prepares violation reports for three Justice Support Services specialists overseeing people on GPS monitoring. They’ll know, for instance, whether an offender on house arrest steps outside.
“This is house arrest. Not garage arrest. Not yard arrest,” .
Caseworkers respond to minor violations — when offenders fail to charge units or are out of range for short periods, for example — with warnings, decreased incentives and other sanctions.
Judges, prosecutors and the defendant’s attorney are notified of serious infractions, such as when offenders enter exclusion zones or are out of range for more than eight hours."

Galveston County Jail Population: 1,051 with 722 (69%) waiting trial. 
 Statewide Average Cost to County Taxpayers to Incarcerate One Individual in County Jail, Per Day (Pretrial or Post-Conviction): $59.00    `


Gary Miller

After 30 years of lying HRC has not yet been charged with anything. One changed word in FBI testimony put Scooter Libby in jail. General Flin lied to the FBI and is charged with pergery. Over 100 felonies, 7 obstruction of justice charges and at least 10 RICO counts have been reported on HRC. When will EQUAL justice for the poor and rich be restored?

Jim Forsythe

Gary , what's your opinion of Galveston county’s legal system.

"Donald Trump promised at the presidential debate Sunday night that, if elected, he would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server."
If he wants, he can press for charges against HRC. Also the Russian investigation will  look at HRC.

Tweeter, maybe the down fall of the President. 
And Richard Painter, the top ethics lawyer during former President George W. Bush’s administration, said that Trump “could be Tweeting himself into an obstruction of justice conviction.”

Flynn said he did it.
Flynn was charged with lying to the FBI about the nature of his conversations with then-Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak during the presidential transition. Those conversations led Russian officials to temper their response to increased U.S. sanctions, according to the charging documents.
The charge carries a penalty of up to five years in prison, but according to court documents, Flynn likely faces a sentence of zero to six months.

Libby, was convicted of four counts .
"In October 2005, Libby resigned from all three government positions after he was indicted on five counts by a federal grand jury concerning the investigation of the leak of the covert identity of Central Intelligence Agency officer Valerie Plame Wilson. He was subsequently convicted of four counts (one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of perjury, and one count of making false statements), making him the highest-ranking White House official convicted in a government scandal since John Poindexter, the national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan in the Iran–Contra affair"

PD Hyatt

I noticed that none of the progressive leftists make mention of the FBI agent who was lead in this investigation was just fired for his biased tweet against Pres. Trump.... That should have put ALL of this investigation into question as he probably tainted ALL of the so called evidence that you all have been trying desperately to tag him with, because all of the progressives hate the fact that America rejected the Hildabeast. BTW, Jim I do wonder why none of you have brought up Lynch and Bill Clinton about their meeting on the tarmac that was about the Hildabeast, or about Lerner who stuck it to conservative groups.... Oh there is so much more that we could bring up, but I think you get the drift.... The left only believes that conservatives sin and that when you all do all that you all do is wink and nod and the ones who break the law.... Oh well what can one expect from the ones who hate this nation and what it was built upon....

Emile Pope

Bless his heart...

PD Hyatt

I was wondering the same thing about the Hildabeast, Lynch, Holder, Lerner and many others as it seems if you are on the side of the progressives you can do all kinds of evil and get away with it.... Just look at Bill Clinton, before during and after he was in office and let us not forget the Clinton Foundation, white water and many other things that they have skated past....

Emile Pope

Garbage. And Libby didn't spend a day in jail. Just before he was to report to prison Bush, the guy he was covering for, erased his prison time. Please get your facts straight...

Dwight Burns

It's sad how some who post here continue to ignore proven facts.

James Reeves

Justice IS for the victim.

PD Hyatt

that depends upon where you live.... In San Francisco that isn't the case....

Michael Gaertner

Thank you Jim Forsythe! I wish you'd taken the math on out to its conclusion. $50 per day times 722 people awaiting trial is over $36,000 per day! over $13 million per year. Even if only half the folks awaiting trial were fit to be released on house arrest, you would still be talking about $6 million per year.

Jim Forsythe

Michael , overcrowding of our jail, is getting to the point we will be forced to address it. To be fair , most reports about our jail have said that about 150 could be released on a  release program with restrictions, such as a monitor system.  
The  $56 cost is really a state average. In the story from the GDN they said it is closer to $70 a day in Galveston.
If we do not reduce the numbers, we will have to address overcrowding. It shows we have 1165 inmates today.

The Daily News .
Oct 15, 2016 
Inmates nearly filled the 1,187-bed facility last week, prompting corrections officers to seek space at neighboring county jails.
The jail opened a decade ago as part of a nearly $100 million project, including the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office, Galveston Police Department and Justice Center, which houses the county’s courts. The county built the jail to hold about 1,200 inmates.
Architects designed the building to potentially double in size to a capacity of 2,400, however
Jail construction is expensive. Construction companies would likely charge at least $400 a square foot.

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