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Can a County Court at Law Judge Affect Overcrowding in the Hays County Jail?

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You may have heard that the Hays County jail is so overcrowded that Hays County taxpayers spent $4.3 million dollars in 2018 to send people to other jails in other counties. If you haven’t heard, you can read google "Hays County jail overcrowding" to learn more.


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70% of those in jail have not been convicted of any crime. Constitutionally, these people are presumed innocent unless the State prosecutors prove they are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, or they admit they are guilty in a plea bargain agreement.


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First, the county courts at law contribute less to overcrowding at the jail, compared to district courts. That said, Hays County Court at Law #3, because it is a court that handles misdemeanor criminal cases, does have some impact on the jail population.


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There are procedures that can reduce or eliminate Hays CC3's contribution to overcrowding at the Hays County Jail. The judge should be readily available to review bond amounts to get people charged with non-violent misdemeanors out of jail quickly, work with pretrial services to increase PR bonds for those without money for bail, encourage cite-and-release so that people are not incarcerated at all for things like possession of marijuana, and give effect to the Constitutional right to Speedy Trial.


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Regarding setting and reviewing bond amounts: In Hays County, before this election cycle,* a J.P. judge appeared every day at the Hays County jail to magistrate those who have been arrested. Magistration involves explaining to the arrested person what they’re charged with, that they have a right to remain silent and a right to an attorney, etc. 


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At magistration, the magistrate also sets the bond amount for the person, in an amount that is supposed to be tailored to the individual to ensure that they come to court to face the charges, rather than run off. If Jane Doe is arrested on a Friday night, she will be magistrated Saturday morning and have a bond set. For misdemeanor cases (like those heard in Hays CC3), the bonds might be set at thousands of dollars.


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The bond is supposed to be tailored to the person in an amount that will ensure he/she comes to court; it is NOT supposed to be intended to oppress the person. If Jane Doe has lived at the same house in Kyle for 20 years, makes $40,000/year, and has never been arrested before, she would likely have her bond set much lower than someone with an unstable living situation, prior arrests, and a habit of not showing up to court for prior charges.


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What do people do if they have no money and the bond is set at $1,000? If they can’t scrape together $1,000, but they can get a few hundred dollars together, they can go to a bondsman and pay the bondsman to get the person released from jail.


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But, what if they cannot afford even $200 to pay a bondsman?


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There was a recent order by a federal judge in Houston requiring the Houston county courts at law to allow for non-money bond conditions on personal recognizance bonds for people that cannot afford to make money-bail. Google "Harris County bail ruling" to learn more if you're interested. Courts around Texas use an arm of the court called Pretrial Services to monitor those on PR bond to make sure that they come to court and are not violating conditions of their bond.


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It is a trade-off: Money can be used to ensure someone comes to court, but if they don’t have money, there are non-money conditions that can achieve the same goal so that a person’s economic status doesn’t unfairly disadvantage them in the court system.


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To make sure that the jail is not crowded with people charged with non-violent misdemeanors, a county court at law judge can review the bond amounts as soon as possible after the person was arrested,  alter the amount, or give the person a PR bond with non-money conditions of bond to ensure they come to court and not violate conditions of the bond (using Pretrial Services).


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Regarding Speedy Trial: What happens if the person can neither make money-bail, nor is eligible for a PR bond? In that situation, the accused might urge his/her right to Speedy Trial. It then becomes important for the court to quickly set the person for trial so that a jury can determine whether there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that he/she committed the offense. If the jury finds the person guilty, the jury or judge can decide whether to assess jail time as a punishment, and/or a fine, or probation, based on their evaluation of the evidence in the case.


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*Note, very very recently, Hays County hired a magistrate judge to set bonds. It is unclear at this time if this change will improve the jail crowding situation. At a San Marcos City Council meeting on March 3, 2020, a police official indicated that Hays County is working toward 24 hour magistration so that people charged with non-violent misdemeanors - and who can afford the bond or receive PR bonds - do not sit in jail for a significant period of time. 

 

If announcing my candidacy in any way contributed to Hays County making these improvements, this is the best thing I've ever done.

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My name is Millie Thompson. I am running for Hays County Court at Law 3, as a Democrat.

I grew up in a mobile home in the neighborhood called Green Pastures in Kyle, Texas. After moving to Austin for high school at John H. Reagan H.S., I went on to study Anthropology and Sociology at Texas A&M University. After getting my B.A., I completed the course work and passed the comprehensive exams for a M.A. (no degree taken) at the University of Houston in Cultural Anthropology with a graduate certificate in Women’s Studies. Instead of completing the thesis for my M.A., I decided to go to law school. I did not want to be an academic. I wanted to actually help people, not just study them. I graduated from South Texas College of Law in Houston, and I have been practicing law since 2010. I run my own law practice with offices in Dripping Springs and Austin. My husband and I live in Dripping Springs.


I have had the honor and privilege of representing Texans across our state in every type of case that is filed in Hays CC3. In addition, I have represented people in Civil Rights lawsuits in federal court. Through my Civil Rights work, I have delved deeply into Constitutional law, litigating First Amendment and Due Process issues.


My educational background in the social sciences, knowledge of Constitutional law, and experience handling cases across Texas combine so that I have a long list of right and wrong ways to organize a court to ensure the fairest possible procedures – that can reduce the Hays CC3’s contribution to the jail population. Hays County will continue to experience a population increase indefinitely into the future. The courts will continue to add more cases. I am asking for your vote so that I can get to work modernizing Hays CC3’s procedures to ensure that they are fair and efficient.


#MillieForHaysCC3


Pol. Ad. Paid for by Millie Thompson Campaign, in compliance with the voluntary limits of the Judicial Campaign Fairness Act. Thomas Nevill, Treasurer.
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