Travis Judges Loosen Misdemeanor Bond Requirements
Judges issue "Standing Order" to expand use of personal bonds
By Michael King,
1:33PM, Fri. Feb. 7, 2020
On Thursday, the seven judges of the Travis County misdemeanor criminal courts issued a “Standing Order” to officially expand the use of “personal recognizance bonds” to cover most nonviolent offenses. The order reads that it is “effective immediately.”
The Standing Order begins, “In the interest of justice and fairness for all persons accused of misdemeanor crimes, the Travis County Court at Law Judges, having been notified in writing that the Travis County Attorney does not object to the adoption of this Order, have determine that all persons arrested for misdemeanor crimes should be released on personal bonds [i.e., without cash bail] except for in the instances listed in this Standing Order.”
A personal bond is essentially an accused person's written promise to appear for their required court appointments. The listed exceptions, of those offenses that would require posting of a cash bond, include: assaults, violation of protective orders, recurring DWIs (within five years), school-related firearm offenses, persons accused of having violated a previous bond or on hold for other jurisdictions, and persons considered “to present an imminent danger to the community.”
It’s not immediately clear how dramatic a policy change the new Order represents – in previous discussions, county officials and judges have told the Chronicle that a large majority of those arrested (more than 70% for all offenses, including both misdemeanors and felonies) are already released on personal bonds. The Order is accompanied by a direction to magistrates (who initially assign bonds) and a memorandum to Pretrial Services (who review cases and design bond standards) with instructions on the new policy. The Order and memo are signed by all seven misdemeanor court judges.
The county's Justice Planning staff are scheduled to update Commissioners Court on the new policy at next Tuesday’s regular Court meeting. This is a developing story, and we’ll have more to report in the next few days, including reactions from Travis County officials as well as criminal justice reform advocates. Follow the Daily News and next week’s edition of the Chronicle.