Local firm touts bail reform as Supreme Court sets standards for release

Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent | 4/3/2019, 6:54 p.m.
While a landmark Georgia case has now set the standard for bail, one New York-based law firm is applauding the ...
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The Petitioner, Maurice Walker spent six days in jail on a pre-set bail of $160 that he was unable to make before a judge would see him. According to the SCOTUSblog,petition’s central issues were whether heightened scrutiny under the 14th Amendment applies to a government policy that keeps misdemeanor and traffic-offense arrestees in jail pretrial solely because they are poor; and (2) whether the government can keep misdemeanor and traffic-offense arrestees in jail for up to 48 hours after arrest solely because they are poor when it has offered no reason for doing so.

The petition concerned the use of what are commonly referred to as “monetary bail schedules,” where bail amounts are pre-determined, based upon specific offences. The practice allows later adjustment once a defendant appears before a judge.

In Walker’s case, he was jailed because he could not afford to pay $168 in traffic fines and had no means of communicating with a family member to obtain the funds. Leading the position that he, and others in their situation, are jailed simply because they are poor.

The petition questioned whether conducting arbitrary individual reviews of bails set by a schedule within 48 hours meets constitutional muster or instead discriminates against the poor, according to the American Bail Coalition.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld, on a 2-1 decision, the use of monetary bail schedules. As a result of the suit, the city of Calhoun created a new standing order on bail.

It allowed for the use of schedules but required defendants to be heard by a judge within 48 hours, in which they could request a reduction in bail or be released on their own recognizance.

“The Supreme Court today sent a very strong message that monetary bail and bail schedules are constitutional if the proper due process procedures are followed,” Jeff Clayton, Executive Director of the American Bail Coalition, said in a statement.

“It has a been a long, hard and expensive road to get here,” Clayton said.

In denying to hear the Petition (denial of cert), the Supreme Court has also affirmed that rational basis review is the appropriate standard for reviewing claims of wealth-based discrimination under the equal protection clause. “This is contrary to the ruling of two federal district judges who decided to apply intermediate scrutiny and strict scrutiny,” Clayton said.

The denial of cert is considered a milestone victory for constitutional law and the commercial bail industry. “Then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder first filed a statement of interest in Varden v. City of Clanton in 2015, arguing against the use of bail schedules,” Clayton added.

“Since that time, we have been waiting for a signal from the U.S. Supreme Court as to whether the use of money bail schedules is constitutional. Today, we can say without hesitation, we know their answer,” he said.