Electronic monitoring systems are widely used in Texas as an alternative to incarceration and for defendants on bond who are awaiting a trial.
However, a recent case in which a private company removed an ankle bracelet from a capital murder suspect due to non-payment, points to a possible flaw in the system. Clint Walker was left unmonitored for two weeks after a GPS company repossessed his device.
A report in the Texas Tribune noted the capital murder suspect from Houston was released on bond over the summer. He wore a GPS ankle monitor to track his whereabouts under a court order. But he fell behind on his monthly payment plan to the third-party vendor that gave him the monitor. A company employee repossessed it from his ankle in September meaning the accused was left unmonitored.
The case alarmed commentators and officials including Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg. She wrote in a letter to other officials that the case exposes a “troubling loophole” in which defendants can evade electronic detection by not paying monitoring fees.
Clint Walker, 27, is accused of the killing of Enrique Garcia, 57, a security guard in 2016 during a robbery. Walker was released from jail in June on a $100,000 surety bond. The court ordered him to wear an ankle monitor and pay the fees of about $300 a month associated with electronic monitoring.
Walker was supervised by the Harris County Community Supervision and Corrections Department because he was released on a cash bond.
The defendant was given seven days to enlist one of four approved vendors and to pay all fees to them, the Tribune reported.
He chose one of the companies but an employee removed his device after he accrued $305 in back dues, meaning he was no longer under electronic surveillance.
Teresa May, director of the Harris County Community Supervision and Corrections Department, said rather than being a policy loophole, a local vendor broke its agreement with Harris County and was immediately terminated.
May told the Tribune, a vendor will usually go to a defendant if he or she has arrears in payment and say he needs to pay or the vendor will go to the courts. May said signed agreements make it clear vendors can’t remove a monitor without permission from the county. The failure to pay arrears must be reported.
However, the case highlighted a two-tier approach to electronic monitoring in Harris County.
Defendants who are released from jail before trial on a surety bond stump up higher monthly fees to vendors directly if electronic monitoring is ordered. Defendants released on no-cash bonds don’t deal with the vendors but pay a monitoring fee to the county which pays the vendors. No-cash defendants with monitors who have insufficient funds may have their fees waived.
What Kind of Electronic Monitoring is Allowed in Texas?
Texas courts can order two types of electronic monitoring of defendants. Global Positioning System Electronic Monitoring (GPS) allows officials to see the defendant’s location and to track his or her movements to make sure they are in accordance with the court order. A defendant may be ordered not to visit certain places like an area a victim or a witness in the case lives in.
Radio Frequency Electronic Monitoring involves a tracking device – usually an ankle bracelet – that transmits a signal if the defendant strays out of an authorized area such as leaving his home. Electronic monitoring systems are often used on defendants who are not considered a danger. Keeping them under ‘house arrest’ relieves financial and space pressure on jails.
Defendants can receive electronic monitoring as part of their sentence or as a pre-trial condition of bail, Texas laws states. The Texas Penal code states the court “may require the defendant to pay to the community supervision and corrections department or the county any reasonable cost incurred because of the defendant’s participation in the house arrest program, including the cost of electronic monitoring.”
Forcing defendants to pay for their ankle bracelets can be controversial. If they are held under house arrest they may not be able to work and make money to pay the surveillance devices. In other cases, the technology has failed, leaving defendants facing allegations that they tampered with it and facing potential further sanctions. Our Dallas criminal defense team can answer all of your questions related to electronic surveillance. Please contact us for further information.