Citing little used law, Harris County DA wins major battle in bail fight

An order from the Court of Criminal Appeals represents a watershed moment in the ongoing push-pull over bail in Harris County. Law enforcement officers have been increasingly vocal about what many see as violent felons getting low bonds to avoid spending time in jail. The Harris County District Attorney’s Office has long argued that prosecutors ask for high bonds when appropriate, but it’s ultimately judges who decide the amount. On Friday that changed, at least in one case.

Timothy Singleton was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Houston police said he pointed a gun and threatened to kill a man he claimed owed him money. Court records show Singleton has prior convictions for assaulting a family member, robbery, credit card abuse, delivery of a controlled substance and failing to show up for court appearances.

The DA’s office asked for a $50,000 bond. However, a magistrate gave Singleton a $500 bond. Court records read the magistrate was concerned about the COVID-19 virus in the jail.

“It becomes very problematic to arbitrarily say that anyone who has a prior conviction for violence or a prior conviction for threat of violence, or is currently charged with violence or threat of violence can’t get a personal bond. So you are just trying to fill the jail up which is the exact opposite of what should be happening right now,” Hearing Officer Jennifer Gaut is quoted as saying during a probable cause hearing.

Officials with the DA’s Office said they then asked the judge presiding over Singleton’s case, Judge Chris Morton, to increase his bond but were denied. District Attorney Kim Ogg disagreed and her office filed an appeal with Court of Criminal Appeals. On Friday, the CCA sided with Ogg’s office.

“We asked for an increase of his bail to $50,000 and the Court of Criminal Appeals increased his bail to $100,000. It was an extraordinary step that they took, it was a unanimous order issuing the warrant and as best as I can tell the last time the Court of Criminal Appeals has done something like this was in 1921,” said prosecutor Josh Reiss.

The CCA also issued another warrant for Singleton’s arrest.

KPRC 2 legal analyst Brian Wice further explained the law the DA’s office was citing.

“Guarantees the right of the citizenry of this county to be safe from those who would continue to violate criminal laws while they’re out on bonds that seem to be insufficient," said Wice.

Officials with the DA’s office wanted to be clear, they understand the concern over COVID-19 in the jail, their concern was that Singleton raised no health concerns, yet the judge made it an issue.

"I am happy the court agrees with our belief that the coddling of dangerous criminal must stop,” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said to KPRC 2.