HOUSTON – Suspects with violent histories have been released back onto the streets only to end up being accused of committing more crimes.
KPRC 2 Investigates examined the history of low bonds, or personal bonds, given to people accused of being repeat offenders. In many cases, those offenders end up committing crimes that change a family’s life forever.
At 20 years old, Caitlynne Rose Guajardo was married to her husband Alex and pregnant with her second child.
“Like most women in domestic abuse situations, she really believed (Alex) was going change,” said Melanie Infinger, Guajardo’s mother.
In August 2019, when Guajardo wound up in the emergency room, she finally pressed charges. Alex was arrested.
When Alex was charged with attacking Guajardo he was already out of jail on a pair of bonds. Neither required him to put up money before his release. He was facing charges of a second DWI and running from an accident.
Alex was released again on a personal bond. Just two days later, Guajardo and her unborn child were dead.
“Ultimately it cost her life because they let him out,” said Infinger.
“How do you tell a child her mother was murdered and the person accused of the crime is her father?” she added.
Homicide suspects previously released on multiple bonds
After reviewing homicide cases filed during the last two years, KPRC 2 Investigates found 27 cases where a defendant was out on two or more bonds at the time they were accused of killing someone.
Unsecured bonds in felony cases
Another concern is the increasing use of unsecured, or personal bonds, in felony cases. These bonds don’t require defendants to put up any money for their release.
In 2015, out of all the felony bonds issued, 3.4% were unsecured. By 2020, that number grew to 29.5%.
Judge Chris Morton presides over the 230th District Court. He is the only felony court judge who agreed to speak with KPRC 2.
“I think that there’s a new philosophy that people who can’t afford bond are entitled to personal recognizance bonds,” said Morton.
“You issued the most personal bonds. Why?” KPRC 2 Investigator Robert Arnold asked Morton.
“Whenever someone is indigent, cannot afford a bond, I must give them a bond they can make,” Morton replied.
Morton said the Texas Constitution guarantees defendants the right to bond in most cases and bond can’t be a form of punishment, even when someone is repeatedly charged.
“At what point as a judge do you go, ‘Enough is enough?’” asked Arnold.
“Well, the law doesn’t allow me to say, ‘Enough is enough.’” Morton replied.
“If a person is accused of a crime and accused of another crime, until they’re convicted they still must be treated by a judge or by a jury as they’re innocent until proven guilty,” Morton added.
Personal bonds issued by court
KPRC 2 Investigates looked at 18,369 felony cases with pending court dates in Harris County. Below is a breakdown by felony court of how many personal bonds and general order bonds were issued in these cases.