So how does a court in Texas set bail? Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Chapter 17.15 tells us:
- Bail should be sufficiently high to give reasonable assurance that the [defendant will appear in court];
- The power to require bail is not to be used as to make it an instrument of oppression;
- The nature of the offense and the circumstances under which it was committed are to be considered;
- The ability to make bail is to be regarded and proof may be taken upon this point; and
- The future safety of a victim of the alleged offense and the community shall be considered.
The trial court has wide discretion in analyzing these factors. A defendant’s criminal record, employment history, assets, ties to the community, previous compliance with bond conditions, and specific aggravating or mitigating facts of the case at hand may all be considered. Obviously, the more severe the crime and the likelihood that an arrestee may be harmful to the community are of utmost importance. But, the courts and the legislature has made clear that bail is not to be used for punishment, as the person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. It is only to be used to guarantee their appearance in court.
A judge may also place reasonable conditions of bail. Such conditions may include: 24 hour armed security, Third party custodian, GPS/electronic monitoring, Surrender passport, Drug/alcohol testing, Travel restrictions, No firearms, No contact with witnesses/co-defendants, or no contact with victims.
So, in the case of Officer Van Dyke in Chicago, who recently plead ‘Not Guilty’ in the shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, and was charged with first degree murder, perhaps the most severe offense in state court, his bail was set quite high at $1,500,000.00. Reasonable conditions were also set, like electronic leg monitoring. Is it surprising that a murder defendant is out on bail? Yes, but only because most murder defendant’s are not able to post the $150,000.00 that a bail bondsman would likely require in order to post a $1.5 million bond. But, since he was able to, he will await his trial with his family instead of behind bars.