Violent Offenders Could Be Denied Bail If Bill Passes

It started with a woman's murder in Cherokee County by her husband seeking retaliation. Now that crime is leading efforts to get laws changed. Texas lawmakers are now considering a plan to allow a district judge the right to deny bail when the safety of a victim or the community is at risk.

To understand proposed changes in bail revocations you need some background about current law. Constitutional provisions guarantee bail for all defendants, with few exceptions. District Judge Ed Klein explained, "You can't totally deny bail except on certain circumstances, capital murder and some other instances. The way the statute is written now it's complicated."

Senator Todd Staples' proposal would allow district judges to deny bail for certain violent offenders. This week Staples' bill passed out of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. The bill now heads to the Senate floor. If passed by both the Senate and the House it goes to state voters for a constitutional change.

Prosecutor Stephanie Stephens says conditions are frequently added by a judge, but in rare instances more restrictions are needed. "Off the top of my head I can't think of a circumstance where a defendant has violated that order and gone back and threatened the victim. The problem is when you have that set of circumstances that escalates into the situation they had in Cherokee County where the victim ended up dead," said Stephens.

Defense attorneys oppose the measure contending its a violation of a person's constitutional rights. Attorney John Heath Jr said, "The right to be presumed innocent when you have charges against you and your ability to defend against those charges ought to be protected to the extent you ought to have some access to be free while you're preparing to defend against the charges."

All the laws were written for a specific reason. And some will be changed following emotional events. But both prosecutors and defenders agree objectivity makes the better law.