Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) today gave the following statement on the House floor in support of the Citizens’ Right to Know Act (H.R. 2152). This bill, introduced by Congressman Ted Poe (R-Texas), ensures oversight of pre-trial release programs, which allow accused criminals to await their trial at home instead of in jail.

Chairman Goodlatte: Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of H.R. 2512, the Citizens Right to Know Act of 2018, introduced by the gentleman from Texas, Mr. Poe.

A little over 50 years ago, there were three pre-trial options for defendants accused of a crime. They were released on their own recognizance (ROR), granted commercial bail, or remanded to custody. When considering the options on whether to grant ROR, set a bail amount or remand, the judge considers a number of factors including:

  • The severity of the crime charged;
  • The suspect’s criminal record;
  • The danger posed to the public if the suspect is released; and
  • The suspect’s ties to family, community and employment.

Commercial bail ensures the appearance of the defendant in court at no cost to the taxpayer.

The situation for defendants began to change in the 1960s. The first U.S. pretrial services program, the Manhattan Bail Project, was established in 1961. The Manhattan Bail Project was intended to help defendants who were financially unable to post the surety bond conditions set in New York City. The program interviewed defendants to gather information on community ties to determine a defendant’s likelihood of appearing in court.  Based on these interviews, low-risk individuals were recommended for release on their own recognizance, or the defendants’ promise to appear without financial obligation.

Unfortunately, over the last four decades, pre-trial release programs have expanded well beyond their original scope and purpose. Today there are over 300 pre-trial release programs nationwide, whose participants routinely include violent and repeat offenders, many of whom are able post a commercial bond and have done so in the past.  In many instances, the federal government has become a major source of funding for pre-trial release programs.

Currently, these pretrial release programs funded by the taxpayers are not required to report any information about the defendants released through their programs into the communities. Basic information on defendants is neither collected nor reported in any systematic fashion.

H.R. 2152 requires jurisdictions that receive grant money from the Department of Justice to operate a pretrial release program need to report certain information concerning the defendants to the Attorney General. The bill requires the jurisdiction to submit the criminal histories of the defendants and the number of times the defendant has failed to appear as ordered by the court. It also requires the Attorney General to make public the information the Department of Justice receives.  In my mind, that isn’t a whole lot to ask these jurisdictions.

In fact, this bill is beneficial, because citizens have the right to know what types of defendants are being released prior to their trial.  If a defendant has a long history of criminal behavior or frequent failures to appear in court, the community should know that. Likewise, residents should be aware if their community is running a successful pretrial services program where defendants are regularly making it to their court appearances.  Simply put, no matter what side of the bail or no-bail debate you find yourself on, you should support this bill.  Information like this in the hands of the public is never a bad thing. It will also be helpful to those of us who make policy on these matters.

I want to thank Mr. Poe for introducing this legislation. I urge my colleagues to support H.R. 2152 and I reserve the balance of my time.