The Texas Legislature has passed Senate Bill 6, which requires those accused of a violent crime to pay cash bail before their release. Here's what you should know.
SB 6: The Damon Allen Act
Gov. Greg Abbott signed SB 6 into law on September 13, 2021. The law, named after slain state trooper Damon Allen, will make cash bail a requirement for those convicted of violent crimes. Allen was killed at a traffic stop in 2017 while the suspect was released on bond.
SB 6 will ban release on personal bonds or through a bail bonds company. It will also remove the option for bail for those arrested for a felony charge while on parole for a previous felony. The Damon Allen Act will go into effect on December 2, 2021.
This new law could make getting out on parole extremely difficult, which raises the question: if these people are still innocent under the law, isn't incarceration still a punishment reserved for those convicted of a crime?
In general, this law isn't all that different from the bail policy in most Texas jails. The rules might vary between jurisdictions, but a person can be released with a GPS ankle monitor and/or routine drug testing in some counties instead of posting cash bail.
Many opponents to the bill argue that this could further divide the incarceration rates between low-income and upper-class felons, in addition to targeting people of color who historically account for a large percentage of the lower class.
They also point to the limitation of judicial power and bail options as a reason to proceed with caution. Before SB 6, for-profit bail bonds businesses were already taking advantage of people who had no other choice.
On the other hand, many Texans, Governor Abbott included, see this as a way to prevent violent individuals from reoffending before their trial. Some victims and families are glad that the state is taking measures to prevent retribution or violence while out on bond.
This has some merit, as many victims of domestic violence who report it have been injured or killed because their abuser was released from prison for one reason or another.
What Is a "Violent Crime" Under the Damon Allen Act?
Among the many amendments and edits to SB 6 as it went through the legal process, the definition of violent crimes is vague but can be understood to include the following:
- Sex offenses
- Human trafficking
Repeat felons and those with numerous violent crimes on their record are the targets of this law. It will empower law enforcement to perform more comprehensive background checks to ensure that the right people are kept behind bars.
One of the primary concerns regarding the Damon Allen Act is the constitutional right to fair bail under the Eighth Amendment. Under this law, those accused of a crime have the right to fair bail for the sole purpose of securing the defendant's appearance at hearings and their trial.
Additionally,the Constitution states clearly that the state must use bail money for legitimate purposes. Bail cannot be used as a means of raising money or as a punishment. Finally, and most importantly, bail cannot be used to keep the defendant in confinement.
The purpose of this clause of the Eighth Amendment is to avoid "debtors' prisons" – a concept that was popular in England in the early 19th century. As the name would suggest, debtors' prisons are specifically designed to incarcerate people who owed money to the state, a creditor, landlord, or for their own bail.
That said, the questionable constitutionality of SB 6 is concerning. Not only has Gov. Abbott clearly stated that the purpose is to keep violent offenders imprisoned, but the cost of implementing the law raises questions about where the state is getting the funds. Will bail fund the program? Is it a violation of the Eighth Amendment?
The Uncertain Future of Bail in Texas
It's hard to answer these questions at this point. The law is relatively new, and there are many road bumps that could derail implementation along the way. Until we can see the law in action and how it will be funded, the best we can do is wait.
If you are charged with a felony or violent crime, contact The Law Office of Shane Phelps, P.C. immediately. Our firm has the skill and experience you need to protect your rights.