Federal Judge Enjoins Unconstitutional Cash Bail

jail bars

Alec Karakatsanis (a member of our Board of Advisors) writes with news about a case that he helped spearhead in which a  federal judge in Georgia yesterday “granted a class-wide preliminary injunction forcing the City of Calhoun to end its unconstitutional use of cash bail to keep impoverished people in government cages after their arrest.”

Here are two excerpts from the thoughtful, 74-page opinion (pdf here):

“Certainly, keeping individuals in jail solely because they cannot pay for their release, whether via fines, fees, or a cash bond, is impermissible. . . . Any bail or bond scheme that mandates payment of pre-fixed amounts for different offenses to obtain pretrial release, without any consideration of indigence or other factors, violates the Equal Protection Clause. The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment generally prohibits “punishing a person for his poverty.” . . . This principle has special implications as it relates to depriving a person of his liberty. Attempting to incarcerate or to continue incarceration of an individual because of the individual’s inability to pay a fine or fee is impermissible. . . . This is especially true where the individual being detained is a pretrial detainee who has not yet been found guilty of a crime.”

“The Court ORDERS Defendant to implement post-arrest procedures that comply with the Constitution, and further ORDERS that, unless and until Defendant implements lawful post-arrest procedures, Defendant must release any other misdemeanor arrestees in its custody, or who come into its custody, on their own recognizance or on an unsecured bond in a manner otherwise consistent with state and federal law and with standard booking procedures. Defendant may not continue to keep arrestees in its custodyfor any amount of time solely because the arrestees cannot afford a secured monetary bond.”

Alec is hopeful “that opinions like this–from an experienced federal judge who has been on the federal bench for nearly 40 years–can help spread throughout our legal system the basic principle that no human being should be held in a cage because of her poverty.  We are getting closer each day to making that principle a reality.”

The case reflects a collaboration between Equal Justice Under Law and the Southern Center for Human Rights.

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