A Fort Bend County man accused of a nearly decade old murder was granted reasonable bail because he was not indicted within ninety days of his arrest. The trial court judge followed
Texas law when granting the Defendant's motion.
Based upon a local news report, one would think an accused being granted reasonable bail is an aberration and injustice. Some might argue that an injustice is an accused losing his freedom, home, property, or job as a result of being held in custody while awaiting trial on either a minor offense or an offense he did not commit. The newspaper article is silent as to how anyone would've reacted if the accused, Richard Mendoza, Jr., had posted the initial $250,000.00, bail. Apparently, the outrage is not that he got out cheaply, but that he got out at all. The blame put on the Fort Bend County District Attorney's Office for his release, however, is misplaced; it should be on the founders.
The right to reasonable bail is not new and its not news.
The Eighth Amendment of the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution states, "Excessive bail shall not be required." This was a right won by the colonists' fellow Englishmen after centuries of experience of abuse and legal wrangling and finally preserved in multiple parliamentary acts of the 17th century. Texas law also states, "[a]ll prisoners shall be bailable unless for capital offenses when the proof is evident," and
"[e]xcessive bail shall not be required."
The purpose of bail is to insure that the accused appears for trial. Another consideration in setting bail is to increase the likelihood that the accused will not commit further offenses while awaiting trial, including witness tampering. It is not to punish someone who has not yet been convicted of the crime with which they are accused. If Richard Mendoza, Jr., the accused in this case, resolves his case without picking up a new offense or jumping bail, his release will be proven appropriate. Any risk of him fleeing the jurisdiction may be measured against the fact that approximately nine years after the murder he is accused of committing, he was arrested in the area. Additionally, the Court imposed bail conditions, including an ankle monitor, that may deter or prevent him from absconding.
It is very revealing that the deceased's family, reporter, and District Attorneys assume that a grand jury would've indicted Mendoza had the case just been presented earlier. In fact, one did when the case was finally presented. For some in the criminal justice system, this may confirm the widely held beliefs about grand juries that - they are captive to prosecutors and able to "indict a ham sandwich." In most Texas felony cases, an indictment is merely a formality at best and a foregone conclusion at worst.
As Criminal Defense Lawyers know,
every felony acquittal began with a grand jury indictment.
Update: Another defendant is released. The problem with these stories is that they seem to have no purpose other than to bash the Fort Bend County District Attorney for allowing Defendants to be released withoutout posting bail in a large amount. It's unfortunate that neither the Houston Chronicle nor the local ABC affiliate have chosen to place these stories into a larger context, particularly in light of ongoing discussions about local county jail overcrowding on account of high bail amounts.
Update: Contrast the cold case murder discussed above with the
attempted flight to Mexico of two teenagers wanted for a December 20, 2011, capital murder in Harris County. Capital Murder carries a potential death sentence or life without parole and the two suspects were caught at an international bridge in Laredo. They may have viewed flight as their only chance at survival or freedom. Two people who haveactually fled and who a court may opine have little incentive to appear in court will likely be denied bail. This is quite different from someone who has been hanging around the same area for more than a decade.