87th LegislatureLocal NewsState SenateTexas Lawmaker Introduces ‘Caitlynne’s Bill’ to Address Felony Bond Problem

In response to rising criminal activity related to lenient felony bond practices in Harris County, Sen. Paul Bettencourt looks to address the problem.
February 1, 2021
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At a Monday press conference at Crime Stoppers Houston, Melanie Infinger offered an emotional recounting of the circumstances surrounding the murder of her daughter Caitlynne Guajardo.  

Infinger explained that 20-year-old Caitlynne was four months pregnant with her second child when she filed charges against her husband Alex Guajardo after he allegedly hit her in the face and killed her pet cat by submerging the animal in a bag of bleach.

Since Guajardo, 22, had already been released on personal recognizance (PR) bonds for two DUI charges and a hit-and-run, the family believed that the criminal justice system would detain him for Caitlynne’s safety, but Harris County Criminal Court 4 under Judge Shannon Baldwin ordered his release on yet another PR bond.

Less than 24 hours later Guajardo was re-arrested and charged in the stabbing death of Caitlynne and her unborn child.

After learning that her daughter’s killer had been let out on PR bond, Infinger said she could not believe what had happened.

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“I was livid. I was angry, and I knew that my daughter’s death was preventable,” explained Infinger. “I knew that the rest of my days I was going to fight to make sure a change was made in her name….to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

In response to the Caitlynne Guajardo story and an increasing number of homicides in the county allegedly committed by suspects released on low-dollar felony or PR bonds, state Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) announced at Monday’s press conference that he has filed “Caitlynnne’s Law,” legislation crafted to address the problem in the county and statewide.

“This situation has to stop,” said Bettencourt. “And while we’re filing a bill today…I’m calling on the judges of Harris County to stop this today.”

While misdemeanor bail policies in Harris County are largely governed by the settlement terms of a federal lawsuit known as ODonnell v. Harris County, felony bail is still set by elected judges or appointed magistrates.

Over the past few years, Harris County’s judges and magistrates have become increasingly lenient in setting bonds and release conditions for felony suspects, and on numerous occasions suspects released have been re-arrested for additional felony offenses, including murder. 

According to Andy Kahan, Victim’s Advocate for Crime Stoppers, more than 90 people have been murdered by suspects released on multiple or PR bonds over the past two years in a trend that predates the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kahan noted that just in the past week law enforcement officers with both the Harris County Sheriff’s Department and the Houston Police Department had been shot by defendants out on multiple felony bonds.

If passed, Catilynne’s Law would prohibit magistrates from releasing a defendant on a PR bond for offenses committed while out on an existing PR bond, or on a felony offense when two or more other felony charges are pending against the defendant.

The legislation would also set a $10,000 minimum amount of bail per offense in felony cases where the defendant is accused of three or more felonies.

The Texas Constitution guarantees the right of bond to a defendant, so Bettencourt’s bill works within that constraint. Changing the law to outright deny bonds would require the passage of a new state constitutional amendment.

Growing concern over felony bond practices in the county has drawn bipartisan support for Bettencourt’s bill. Although not in attendance, District Attorney Kim Ogg expressed support, saying, “Violent offenders who commit more crimes while on bail should not be repeatedly released to prey on innocent people.”

Bettencourt was joined at the press conference by Crime Stoppers CEO Rania Mankarious, state Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Humble) County Commissioner Tom Ramsey (R-Pct. 3), Houston City Councilman Michael Kubosh, Pastor Willie Davis, Harris County Deputies’ Organization President David Cuevas, and the Houston Police Officers’ Union’s Executive Director Ray Hunt and President Doug Griffith.

Huberty noted that Harris County is coping with a backlog of cases, but that judges need to stop releasing violent offenders and go back to work. Since the judges were not adequately protecting public safety, Huberty said it was necessary for the legislature to act.

“We’re going to solve this problem; we’re going to get this passage, you know it’s got to pass in the senate, it’s got to pass in the house, we have tremendous support, I believe in both bodies.”

“This shouldn’t be an issue of Democrat or Republican, this should be 100 percent supported by any elected official in Austin,” said Ramsey.

Former Super Neighborhood President Tomaro Bell joined Pastor Davis in calling for bipartisan efforts and agreed that increasing crime had impact on minority neighborhoods.  She also expressed frustration with Harris County commissioners supporting lenient bond policies while having their own bodyguards.

“Well hell, I can’t afford a bodyguard!” said Bell. “I shouldn’t be afraid to go to the store.”

Other speakers also emphasized the need for bipartisan action.

Thanking all the participants, Mankarious said she wanted to reiterate that Crime Stoppers was about solutions.

“It makes me crazy when people turn this political, and if you just look at the victims, just shame on you.”

Mankarious said the organization would continue to work with law enforcement and the community, and announced that they were bringing on former Judge Maria Jackson (D) to help navigate the judicial system and to help craft solutions.

“I resigned September 30, 2019 as the longest-serving felony court judge in Harris County because I didn’t like the way bail reform was going,” said Jackson. “The original intent was to prevent injustice, but when you see so many killings, and it’s going in the opposite direction, that is injustice.” 

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Holly Hansen

Holly Hansen

Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.