What role do prosecutors have in the Harris County criminal liability debate?

HOUSTONThis survey is broadcast tonight at 10 p.m. on KPRC 2.


Harris County judges are often criticized for setting any type of bond or bond that the public considers too low in cases involving violent crime. However, KPRC 2 Investigates wanted to know what is the role of the prosecutor in this process, more precisely, what impact can the prosecutor have on the setting of bail in criminal cases?

KPRC 2 Investigates reviewed the court records of all murder and capital murder cases for which bail was posted this year, from January 1 to September 30. In at least 10% of the 257 cases we looked at, prosecutors did not appear to challenge the bail. set by the judge.

Look at our previous surveys of criminal bond issues over the past year.

NOTES OF THE JUDGES

Although judges are not allowed to speak publicly about specific cases, analysis of the files by KPRC 2 Investigates revealed that judges had left notes about the bail process on log sheets.

Some of these notes stated: “the prosecution did not ask for a higher bond”, “the state never asked to increase the bond” or “the state did not move forward with a request under sufficient deposit ”. In other cases, we have found prosecutors withdrawing petitions seeking bail denial.

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ABANDONMENT OF THE MOTION: AND THE VICTIM?

One of the cases involved is the murder of 17-year-old David Castro after an Astros game in July.

“The things I have come to learn about how the system works and how it fails are both disgusting and shocking,” said Paul Castro, David’s father.

“What did you think would happen in terms of the link? KPRC 2 investigator Robert Arnold asked.

“The hope was the system would keep him locked up,” Castro said. “When I heard that her accused murderer got bail, it was infuriating at first.”

Gerald Wayne Williams, 34, is charged with the murder of David Castro. A magistrate initially set his bail at $ 350,000, but prosecutors immediately requested that he be held without bail. While the Texas constitution guarantees most defendants the right to bind, the law also allows denial of it in Williams’ case due to his previous felony convictions and the fact that he is charged with a felony. involving a lethal weapon.

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Yet court records show that prosecutors “abandoned” their request to deny bail and instead requested a $ 500,000 bond.

KPRC 2 Investigates’ review found that Judge Marc Brown wrote that without a hearing or evidence to support their request to increase the bond, he had “no discretion” to “refuse the bond” and “no legal justification” to change the initial amount.

Castro said prosecutors told him asking for a bail denial would require them to show more evidence against Williams than they were comfortable sharing at such an early stage in a case.

“As we understood, putting all of these facts on the table could jeopardize the case in one way or another,” Castro said.

He said he was not aware of Judge Brown’s case until he received a copy from KPRC 2.

“I’m confused, to be honest. Looking at what the judge wrote and understanding what I understood at the time, it seemed like there was a possibility of not asking for any bond, ”Castro said.

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THE ROLE OF THE DA

KPRC 2 Investigates requested an interview with District Attorney Kim Ogg regarding the bail issue, but senior prosecutor JoAnne Musick answered the questions on behalf of the office.

“[Judge Brown is] wrong, he had a legal remedy, ”Musick said in reference to the note. “If he thinks the bond is insufficient, he himself can… elevate that bond to a higher level.” “

Musick declined to explain why the prosecutor in this case asked for bail without presenting any supporting evidence, but reiterated that Judge Brown, and any judge, “has the right to determine whether the bond is sufficient or no”.

ATTORNEYS DO NOT PRESENT EVIDENCE

“But isn’t that an evasion?” You say, ‘Oh, well, that’s just the judge. Are our hands tied at this point? Arnold said.

“I’m not saying our hands are tied. I’m saying we took a strategic position not to present evidence at that time, ”Musick said.

Former judges told KPRC 2 Investigates that prosecutors had a “considerable” impact on the issuance of bail.

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Former judge and prosecutor Catherine Evans said that while judges ultimately issue bail, many are looking to the prosecution and defense to provide information that will help inform that decision.

“Bonds cannot be used as an instrument of oppression, what that means in any given situation is very open to interpretation,” Evans said.

Former judge George Powell, who is now a defense attorney, also adds that most bonds are set by magistrates shortly after a person’s arrest. Once the case is brought before the lower court, if the prosecution does not request a hearing to change or deny the bond, a judge will rarely take this action on their own.

“In that case, the judge is usually going to leave him alone and there may be people upset because a judge hasn’t made a decision in this case,” Powell said.

“WHEN ARE YOU FIGHTING FOR THESE THINGS?” “

“So when are you fighting for these things?” Arnold asked about cases where judges have set a lower bond than requested by prosecutors.

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“When we feel it’s far from enough, we’ll add extra resources and time to keep fighting. If it’s just a little, we’re not going to sit down and waste the court’s time arguing about a small amount, ”Musick said.

Musick admits that the term “sufficient” is subjective and that the amount of the bond requested is decided on a case-by-case basis. Musick said the DA’s office did not have a specific written bail policy; decisions are made based on the evidence, the nature of the crime, the criminal record and the safety of the community.

Musick said not fighting for a higher bond is sometimes part of a larger trial strategy, and the office’s growing backlog and limited resources are another factor.

“There is no time to take each case to a hearing, there is no time to present the evidence in each case fully, so obviously that has to be taken into account,” Musick said. “We have to sort out and see which are the most important to fight. “

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None of these answers and explanations bring comfort to fathers like Paul Castro.

“I feel like I don’t have enough information to have anything other than a moderate opinion, what I do know is that my son is dead and the person accused of killing him is in the street, ”Castro said.

ROLE OF BONDING COMPANIES

Another factor to consider is that some bonding companies now charge less than the usual 10% fee to secure a bond, according to Evans.

“People come out paying less than they otherwise could have paid, even though the bond is the same,” Evans said. “The whole bonding system is changing and people are finding out.”

President of the Professional Bondsmen of Harris County Association and owner of First Advantage Bail Bonds, Mario Garza said that since the tort bond reform was enacted, surety companies have had to adapt.

“There are fewer bonds to be created, so some companies are lowering their prices to create these bonds,” Garza said. “On average, what a serf does is withdraw 5% and the remaining 5% is on a payment plan.”

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He says that while surety companies may take less money up front, that doesn’t create more risk as they still need collateral to secure potential forfeitures.

“I’m looking at the quality of the link, the defendant, their case, how likely they are to reoffend or skip court,” Garza said.

He says only a small number of companies will accept less than 5% upfront fees and take more risk with a defendant.

Copyright 2021 by KPRC Click2Houston – All rights reserved.


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