On Wednesday, 22-year-old Maranda O’Donnell was driving to her mom’s house to pick up her four-year-old daughter. Then she got pulled over, and she never made it there.
O’Donnell was hauled off to jail after being arrested for driving with an invalid license. She couldn’t afford her bail amount, $2,500, an amount set according to a pre-determined bail schedule that did not consider O’Donnell’s circumstances. O’Donnell had been living with a friend because she could not afford her own place. She obtained a job waiting tables about two weeks ago, but because she is sitting in jail, her attorneys say she fears that job won’t be there for her when she gets out.
Yesterday, lawyers with the national organization Equal Justice Under Law filed a lawsuit on O’Donnell’s behalf against Harris County, Sheriff Ron Hickman and five bail-hearing magistrates. The lawsuit alleges that Harris County’s use of a strict bail schedule is unconstitutional, given that magistrates rarely ever stray from it and therefore almost always fail to consider someone’s ability to pay, as is required by law. The lawyers also asked a judge to immediately release O’Donnell and give her a proper bail hearing, one in which a judge would actually consider her circumstances and whether she can afford the amount on the chart. They are asking the same for more than 500 people who they say are in the same position.
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