County to begin ‘pretrial’ bond services
By LPR Staff
Suspects arrested in Caldwell County crimes may soon have another avenue to freedom.
A measure taken by the Caldwell County Commissioners Court on Monday will create a “Pre-Trial Services” officer under the Caldwell County Community Supervision and Corrections (probation) department. The officer will screen arrestees and
make recommendations to the Courts as whether the defendants should be released on personal recognizance bonds.
“Often, we see defendants that, for whatever reason, can”t make a bond through one of our bail bondsmen, and those defendants wind up staying in the county jail until their court dates,” said Judge Todd Blomerth, who presented the proposal with the support of many members of Caldwell County”s legal community, including Sheriff Daniel Law, the probation department and District Attorney Reagan “Trey” Hicks. “In some cases, those defendants are non-violent offenders with ties to the community who are likely not to offend again, and likely to show up in court, but maybe can”t put together the money to bond out of jail right away. A Pre-Trial Services office will allow them an opportunity for release, and save the county from housing them for an extended period.”
Under the pre-trial diversion release, defendants will be subject to a background check and conditions of release that may include such requirements as ignition interlock devices, random urinalyses and routine check-ins with the probation department. Blomerth was also careful to note that not all defendants would be eligible for a pre-trial diversion release.
“What we want to do is make sure the people that won”t otherwise be a danger to the community have the opportunity to stay in the public while they await trial,” he said. “For instance, [an individual] who is charged with Driving While Intoxicated, and has ties to the community and doesn”t have any other record might be eligible for a release. That way, the defendant can be out, perhaps in [an alcohol or drug] program, with a job, and therefore able to pay their fees and fines. In that case, the defendant may have just made a dumb mistake and would be a good candidate for rehabilitation.”
Blomerth said research reflects some 90 percent of first-time offenders are rehabilitated and never commit another crime. He also suggested the program could lead to a reduction in the cost of court-appointed attorneys.
“If they are on the outside and working, defendants are more likely to be able to afford to retain an attorney,” he said. “And if they can hire their own, Judge Jarrett and I don”t have to appoint them.”
Hicks and local defense attorney Kelley McCormick suggested that a pre-trial diversion program might also allow cases to move through the court system more quickly, easing the backlog currently plaguing the courts.
“When it comes to discussing plea bargains, with [Pre-Trial Services] in place, we will be able to look at the defendant and say “this person is already doing random urine tests and filling all their other requirements,” and they already have a track record in place and a background check performed,” Hicks said. “When we do a plea bargain, we go in for verdict and then we have to have another court appearance for sentencing after background investigations are done. The pre-trial investigation will have already been done, so we might be able to go from verdict straight into sentencing, without that delay.”
CSCD Chief Officer George Hernandez said he could run the program for around $50,000 per year and that pre-trial services will be a leg of the probation department, as opposed to another department within the county.
County Judge H.T. Wright and the Commissioners seemed encouraged by the idea, and approved expenditure from the County”s unencumbered funds to begin preparations.
In other business, the Commissioners heard from the Caldwell County Constables regarding transportation needs throughout the constables offices.
A concern was raised last month by Precinct One Constable Victor “Smitty” Terrell, who approached the Court to request a replacement vehicle for his deputy constables. At that time, it was discovered the two “floater” cars assigned to the Constables” Offices were inoperable.
When Terrell made the request, the Commissioners asked to hear from the other constables, some of whom had stated they could increase their productivity with additional vehicles.
Terrell, Precinct 3 Constable Margarito “Junior” Zapata and Precinct 4 Constable Art Villarreal were present to discuss the situation. Zapata and Villarreal said they did not object to Precinct 1″s use of an additional vehicle, but requested the Commissioners provide working “floater” cars for the precincts to share.
After much disussion, the Commissioners decided to designate two “floating” vehicles, which will be scheduled and shared between the four constables” offices.
In brief news:
The Court reviewed the preliminary plat for St. John”s Estates subdivision.
They discussed a request from the Texas Department of Transportation regarding naming the Wetlands Mitigation Site at Plum Creek. They will ask the Caldwell County Historical Commission to provide suggestions for a name, but reserved the right to make their own suggestions if they don”t agree with the suggestions.
Because of continued dry, windy weather, they opted to leave the outdoor burning ban in place.
They approved the sale of five properties at auction for unpaid taxes.
The County paid bills in the amount of $198,479.66, which included $25,608.13 for indigent legal defense.
The Caldwell County Commissioners Court meets on the second, third and fourth Monday of each month at 9 a.m. in Room 100 of the Caldwell County Courthouse. Meetings are open to the public, and the public is encouraged to attend.