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The Damon Allen Act: 2019 Bail Reform in Texas?

 Posted on April 06, 2019 in Legal News

In August of 2018, Texas Governor Greg Abbott proposed the Damon Allen Act. This bill wants to protect police officers—and communities—after a Texas trooper was murdered by a convict with an extensive criminal record last Thanksgiving. In fact, there are now two sets of bail reform bills named after Texas troopers killed by a criminal—out of jail on bond. Both instances were for assaulting a sheriff's deputy. The criminal who killed Texas trooper Damon Allen didn't only have prior convictions of assaulting a sheriff's deputy, but also had convictions for assaulting a public servant and evading arrest.

The reason this hardened criminal was free on bond despite these violent charges was due to miscommunication. The Justice of the Peace in this situation was unaware of his criminal history—and his past convictions. It's been said this potentially highlighted some issues of magistrate information access.

Texas Known to Slam Bail Reform

This isn't the first time bail reform laws were proposed. In 2017, Texas lawmakers tried to pass extensive laws reforming the bail bond system, which failed. Since then, there have been several lawsuits against Texas counties (that were successful). In fact, two of Texas' most populous counties—Harris and Dallas—were at the front lines of those lawsuits. Federal judges in this case claimed the reform attempts to be unconstitutional. However, with recent events, this topic is making new rounds. Lawmakers predict that in 2019, bail reform issues will return to the headlines as Texas legislators renew their platform—once again sparking the long-disputed call to reform bail bond laws.

'Bail reform proposals will die in the House because people work in the bail bond industry, and make a living on the current system.'

Texas Lawmakers

Texas Governor Greg Abbott worked personally with Damon Allen's family, and proposed the Damon Allen Act alongside them. This law aims to prevent situations like the late Texas trooper's from happening again. However, what exactly does the Damon Allen Act entail? The specific proposals included in the Damon Allen act are as follows:

  1. Put Public Safety First
  2. Increase Magistrate Qualification
  3. Increase Magistrate Information
  4. Protect Communities from Repeat Offenders

Let's break down and understand each proposal:

Put Public Safety First

According to Chapter 17 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, judges have limited discretion when working with defendants. While this does cause relevant information to go unnoticed when working with violent criminals, it's meant to protect privacy. The Damon Allen Act aims to change this, and instead emphasize the safety of the community. By doing this, the Damon Allen Act allows a magistrate to consider the criminal history of a defendant. Along with this, it aims to allow a magistrate to consider all other relevant information, in a stride towards transparency. This is especially true with law enforcement.

Increase Magistrate Qualification

Furthermore, The Damon Allen Act intends to increase magistrate qualifications by allowing any magistrate to set the bail. Additionally, the goal is to allow magistrates to determine the amount of danger posed against a community from a criminal's release. This includes considering any mental health issues and/or family violence history. In cases involving felonies or misdemeanors involving sexual assault, District Court judges—and their associate judges—will make these determinations.

Increase Magistrate Information

As mentioned earlier, magistrate information access and relevancy was a clear demise in Damon Allen's case. If you remember, the Justice of the Peace only released him on bond because they weren't immediately aware of his criminal history—a target issue in the Damon Allen Act. Texas Governor Greg Abbott intends for this bill to give judges immediate access to any and all information before setting their bail. By creating a uniform Court Management System through the Office of Courts Administration, this is possible.

The Damon Allen Act states that by doing this, critical information gaps close—preventing necessary or critical information from going under the radar. This move will especially impact counties with a population under 20,000, where it's common for criminal history to go unnoticed. By implementing the aforementioned uniform Court Management System, magistrates will access the entirety of any defendant's criminal history and mental health involvements—and alert them to protective orders.

Protect Communities From Repeat Offenders

Lastly, the Damon Allen act aims to implement additional steps when a defendant is being supervised for previous criminal conduct. This includes parole, probation, bond, etc. The Damon Allen act states that after a magistrate determines a defendant is being supervised by another agency, that specific agency will receive notification. This notification system functions via the aforementioned Case Management System. This connects magistrates with the appropriate agency, and allows for full, open, and transparent transfer of information.

Will Texas Act in 2019?

While no one can fully predict what will happen in 2019, it's very likely that the issue of bail reform laws will remain in the legislative spotlight.

'The smaller guys who don't have multiple locations, who don't have as many employees and who (do) not have the marketing power that we have, those guys are going to be hurt... And then you're going to have more people unemployed.'

-Al Rucker, bail bond owner

Whether or not Damon Allen's family or Governor Greg Abbott will see the Damon Allen Act pass has yet to be determined. However, it's clear the issue surrounding repeat-criminal violence against police officers exist. Regardless, a lot has changed since 2017—and when it comes to 2019, Texas lawmakers may surprise us.

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