Guest Op-ed: It is time to fix the Texas bail system

By Judge Brandon Birmingham, North Dallas Gazette Guest Contributor

The Texas Constitution is missing something. Let’s fix it.

On Feb. 15, the Texas Constitution turns 141 years old. Ratified in 1876, it is the 5th Constitution in our State’s history. We enjoy the right to free speech, the freedom of religion, and the right to a jury trial to name a few. These rights form the foundation of our system, and are enjoyed by everyone. Lawmakers and Judges must follow these commands in every decision, every step of the way.

Since 1876, there have been 666 proposed amendments, 484 of which became law. I say we change those numbers to 667 and 485. Why? Because we need to address a major problem in our criminal justice system: Bail Reform.

Here’s what I propose as amendment 667: “A person otherwise eligible for bail shall not be detained pre-trial solely because of financial inability to pay.”

In other words, people should not be in jail awaiting trial simply because they are poor. Should they remain in jail Pre-trial because they are dangerous? Yes. A flight risk? Sure. Poor? No.

It’s a simple declaration I think everyone agrees with, even people on opposite sides of the aisle. Take, for example, the Democratic Senator from California, Kamala Harris, and the Republican Senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul. Last summer, they wrote the Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act, the goal of which is to make sure people in jail awaiting trial in the Federal System are not there solely because they are poor.

Even here in Texas, the 6-term Republican Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, Nathan Hecht, supported legislation to make sure people in jail are not there solely because they are poor. He even invited me, an elected Democrat, to be a part of “Team Texas” in October, and travel to Kentucky. We met with Supreme Court Justices, prosecutors, trial court judges and policymakers from all over the Country to learn about bail reform, and how different States are handling these major bail reform issues:

  • How do we fairly and objectively determine a person’s risk to the community and their likelihood to flee?
  • How quickly after arrest can we have a bail hearing where the accused is represented by a lawyer and the prosecutor has an opportunity to be heard?
  • How can we use technology and staffing instead of the incarceration to ensure a person shows up for court to answer to the charges?

These days, I can’t think of much politicians or policy-makers agree on, but this is one, and it’s time we took advantage of it. Why? Because jails are made for people we are afraid of as determined by their conduct, not their bank account.

Brandon Birmingham is the Presiding Judge of all Felony District Courts in Dallas County. Contact him on all social media at @JudgeBirmingham, or by visiting his courtroom on the 6th Floor of the Frank Crowley Courts Building in the 292nd Judicial District Court.

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Justice Served Via Second Chances

Justice Served Via Second Chances


Monday in Dallas County, justice was served in the form of second chances.

A diversion court program called AIM, which stands for Achieve Inspire Motivate, graduated its first five participants.

James Reddic was among them.

“I’m just glad to be free,” said Reddic, now 20. He was 17 when he made what he freely calls a stupid mistake. For three years the felony indictment has been both a burden and a roadblock. “I was struggling to get a job, couldn’t even get a basic job,” explained Reddic. Read More

Trove of Unseen Documents Reveal How Jack Ruby Got the Death Penalty

By Stephen Young, Dallas Observer

When now Dallas County District Judge Brandon Birmingham started working in the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office’s cold case unit, one set of files that was forbidden fruit, even for the highest ranking members of the office.

“There, in the warehouse of the DA’s office in a corner, was the file that we were never allowed to touch, the file of Jack Ruby,” Birmingham said Wednesday night at Dallas’ Sixth Floor Museum. “I was always very curious about why that was, what was in there. There was just this mystique about it.” Read More

Dallas County District Attorney’s AIM program allows second chance for inmates

Dallas County District Attorney’s AIM program allows second chance for inmates

By Staff

The Dallas County District Attorney’s AIM program provides a second chance for young inmates.

The AIM program, which stands for “Achieve Inspire Motivate”, gives young offenders the chance to complete certain classes. It targets young people who are in prison for non-violent offenses. After graduating from AIM, the participant’s case will be dismissed and immediately expunged. Read More

Judge Brandon Birmingham and Toby Shook to present special program at the Sixth Floor Museum, The Assassin’s Assassin: A Case Study of the Jack Ruby Trial

Judge Brandon Birmingham and Toby Shook to present special program at the Sixth Floor Museum, The Assassin’s Assassin: A Case Study of the Jack Ruby Trial

DALLAS, TX – July 10, 2017: America watched as Lee Harvey Oswald, the alleged assassin of President John F. Kennedy, was shot point-blank by Jack Ruby on November 24, 1963, at the Dallas Police headquarters as he was being transferred to the Dallas County Jail. This was the first murder broadcast live on American television. In the emotional aftermath of the Kennedy assassination, Ruby’s case was rushed to trial. Held just months later, Ruby’s trial was hailed by news media as “the trial of the century.”

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