Wichita Co. District Attorney, 78th district judge hope for bail reform from Austin

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WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — As the special legislative session gets underway, bail reform bills are on the agenda.

Fighting for violent offenders to be held without bond is one of the measures proposed in SB 6. Something that local criminal justice officials say has been needed for a long time.

Currently in the Texas Constitution, a defendant is entitled to a bond but Wichita County D.A. John Gillespie says this law allows violent offenders to bond out of jail easily and commit further crimes.

“In the federal system, federal district judges have the ability to detain violent and dangerous defendants but in the state system, our district judges do not because of the Texas Constitution,” Gillespie said. “The part that I really would like to see passed would be this constitutional amendment to amend the Texas Constitution to permit our judges to make that risk assessment.”

Offenders can be held without bond only if they violate certain bond conditions or commit a felony while out on bond for a felony. SB 6 would make it so judges are allowed to hold violent offenders without bond for the safety of the community.

“We do have some people in jail that I think are dangerous to our community, they’ve proven that even if they’re allowed to make bond and get out, they just continue to commit crimes. So those are the ones that, yes, it would be nice to be able to hold them without bond if that passes,” 78th District Judge Meredith Kennedy said.

The Democrats’ recent walkout currently puts all bills in jeopardy but Gillespie says more can be done locally.

“I’d like to see the bond schedule amended or changed because I don’t think it accurately reflects appropriate amounts. That’s a very simple step that our board of judges can take locally. I advocated for that last October and would really like to see action on that,” Gillespie said.

Even if the bill doesn’t pass, both agree that some kind of reform needs to happen for the sake of keeping the community safe.

“We always take into account the evidence that’s presented in any bond hearing so that we are sure that we’re doing what we need to to keep the community safe,” Kennedy said.

Gillespie says the local board of judges can meet rather quickly on bail recommendations if they see fit.

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