The Department of Justice made a court filing on Thursday before a federal appeals court which said that it is unconstitutional to hold defendants in jail because they can’t afford to make bail.
The court filing came in the case of Maurice Walker of Calhoun, Georgia. Calhoun was arrested for the misdemeanor offense of being a pedestrian under the influence and was kept in jail for six. He was told he could not get out of jail unless he paid the fixed bail amount of $160.
From NBC News:
It’s the latest step by the Obama administration in encouraging state courts to move away from imposing fixed cash bail amounts and jailing those who can’t pay.
“Bail practices that incarcerate indigent individuals before trial solely because of their inability to pay for their release violate the Fourteenth Amendment,” the Justice Department said in a friend of court brief, citing the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.
Justice Department’s civil rights lawyers said in their brief that courts must consider a person’s indigence and look at other ways of guaranteeing an appearance in court.
Setting bail for crimes does disproportionately affect poor people.
If a poor person can’t afford to pay bail they may need to spend more time in jail pre-conviction than they would have been sentenced to if they are convicted. If an individual is found not guilty and acquitted, they could also spend months in jail for a minor crime if they can’t afford bail.
This is a problem, but automatically releasing poor people is not the answer.
Bail incentive not to break the law. If they can’t pay the bail and have to spend weeks or longer in jail, they just might think twice about breaking the law next time.
To even attempt to draw up a law on the single bases of being poor is discrimination is pure discrimination against hard working Americans.