We all know that in America, you are innocent until proven guilty. We also feel that we shouldn’t punish the innocent. And yet, as I sit here typing this blog, thousands of people in Travis county are being punished without being found guilty.
Those lucky enough to be released on bond still face onerous pretrial conditions that can restrict freedoms and hit the pocketbook hard. Supposedly, the only two reasons to impose pretrial conditions are to 1) protect the safety of the community or 2) ensure that the defendant is present for court. These rules make sense to me. We don’t want to let a serial killer back on the streets while he waits for trial. The problem lies in just how far these conditions have gone, how often they are applied, and how much they can cost.
Common pretrial conditions include:
- Ignition Interlock Device or portable PAM devices (for DWIs)
- SCRAM device (ankle monitor that senses alcohol)
- Stay-away orders
- Drug/alcohol classes
- GPS monitors (ankle bracelets)
- Intensive Outpatient Program
- Maintain employment (sometimes difficult if you just had to spend a few weeks in jail)
- Any other condition the judge feels is appropriate
The huge discretion given to the judge means that he or she can impose any condition under the sun, so long as it can somehow be tied to community safety or court attendance. There is very little caselaw restraining what can be done.
The high costs ensure that the lower class is hit disproportionately. An IID can cost between $65-$140 per month, plus installation. SCRAM, PAM and GPS monitors can cost even more. Drug classes can take time away from work and also cost. Some judges will stack these conditions, increasing costs further.
Politicians that give lip-service to the idea that criminal justice should be fair for all should take a hard look. This is one of the many way that someone in the lower end of the socioeconomic scale is blasted, while those more well-off can roll with the punches much easier. If someone falls behind or fails to pay, they can have their bond revoked and sit in jail until their trial date, potentially months away, or else take a quick plea and put a permanent blemish on their criminal history. Notice, the actual guilt or innocence of the person is of little consequence. Only the amount of money they can afford.
Although the Supreme Court disagrees, with me, I feel that many of the conditions imposed on innocent people should be unconstitutional. It’s not surprising that I disagree, considering that 100% of the justices on the Supreme Court came from Ivy League schools, and would likely not be severely affected if they had to cover a few hundred a month on pretrial conditions.
If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Travis, Williamson or surrounding counties, call 512-677-5003 for a free consultation on your case.