Lawmakers propose more changes to Texas’ bail system

Proposed bill would not allow convicted felons who had weapons to receive personal bond

HOUSTON – After passing sweeping legislation last session, lawmakers are again eyeing changes to Texas’ bail system.

During the last session, lawmakers passed sweeping legislation to tighten bail laws in cases involving violent crime.

In this session, lawmakers want to add felons in possession of a weapon to the list of crimes not eligible for personal bonds.

“I said, ‘You know what, here is something no one is talking about,’” said Houston Crimestoppers’ Andy Kahan. “This is a ticking time bomb.”

The discussions regarding changes to Texas’ bail system began months ago during a Senate Finance Committee interim hearing.

In addition to Kahan asking lawmakers to consider this issue, Comal County District Attorney Jennifer Tharp also asked the committee to think about adding felon in possession to the list of crimes not eligible for personal bonds.

“Silly me thought that any judge worth their weight at all would never give a personal bond to a convicted felon who had a weapon,” said State Sen. Joan Huffman/(R) Dist. 17 in response during the July 2022 hearing.

Fast forward to the current legislative session and Huffman, who is the vice chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, filed Senate Bill 1318.

“It’s basically a disaster waiting to happen,” said Huffman during a recent interview with KPRC 2.

Huffman’s bill would, among other things, add felon in possesssion of a weapon to the list of crimes not eligible for a personal bond.

“Some of these seem obvious to me that a judge shouldn’t be giving a personal bond because, by definition, a convicted felon (and) they are in possession of a firearm,” said Huffman.

Kahan first raised the issue after noticing several cases where those charged with this crime were released on personal bonds and later charged with committing more severe crimes.

Kahan pointed to the case of Quinnton Allen. Court records show Allen was convicted of aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon in 2014 and sentenced to nine years in prison. After being released from prison in 2021, he was charged with being a felon in possession of a weapon. Allen was released on a personal bond, according to Harris County records, and six months later was charged with murder. Allen is currently awaiting trial.

“How is this in the best interest of public safety?” Kahan asked. “Why are we knowingly putting people back who shouldn’t be carrying a firearm or having one in their possession right back to the community?”

More recent concerns include the case of Donald Wayne Kelley, who was simultaneously on parole for a 1992 murder and probation for his second DWI when he was arrested for having a gun. Court records show Kelley was originally released on a personal bond.

However, court records show when Kelley made his first court appearance, Judge Katherine Thomas revoked his personal bond and had Kelley taken into custody. Judge Thomas then set a $25,000 bond and ordered Kelley to be placed on GPS tracking if released from jail. Court records show Kelley has not yet made bond, and officials with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said a “blue warrant” has also been issued for Kelley on a motion to revoke parole.

KPRC 2 Investigates analyzed current felon in possession of weapon cases in Harris County.

According to records from the District Clerk’s Office, there are 1,170 active FWP cases and 16.6% of those cases show a personal bond was granted.

Records from the Harris County District Attorney’s Office show felon in possession of a weapon charge has been filed 8,140 times since 2019.

Huffman’s bill also calls for changes in the way magistrates, which set bail in many cases, are appointed in Harris County, and would give prosecutors the chance to appeal to a higher judicial authority what they consider to be too low of a bond.

There is opposition to Huffman’s bill.

Nicholas Hudson with the ACLU testified during a March 7 hearing before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee that he was concerned the bill would exacerbate the problem of those with money being able to secure their release from jail prior to trial, while lower-income defendants are forced to sit in jail.

“It would be wise for us to think about more comprehensive fixes to the system that don’t rely on wealth as a detention mechanism,” said Hudson.

There is also a concern about more long-term inmates being placed in the Harris County Jail, which has seen several deaths and has been cited for not meeting minimum state standards.

Jacilet Griffin-Lee’s son died in jail while awaiting trial.

“People’s freedom should only be taken in very limited, specific circumstances, and be considered on an individual basis and not solely on the charge,” Griffin-Lee told committee members during the March 7 hearing.

Huffman’s bill passed in the Senate and is now headed to the State House of Representatives.

About the Author:

Award winning investigative journalist who joined KPRC 2 in July 2000. Husband and father of the Master of Disaster and Chaos Gremlin. “I don’t drink coffee to wake up, I wake up to drink coffee.”