The ACLU has filed another lawsuit targeting monetized bail in Georgia.
This one, filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, seeks class action status for claims against Glynn County and its sheriff, public defender and magistrate judge.
Similar cases are already pending around the country and in the North Georgia town of Calhoun. The Atlanta City Council and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms recently approved legislation changing a similar cash bail system to one that allows for release on a signature for nonviolent misdemeanor charges. Gov. Nathan Deal, the Criminal Justice Reform Commission and Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice P. Harris Hines have spoken out this year about the need to end wealth-based detention.
Glynn County Attorney Aaron Mumford could not be reached immediately. A county spokesman had not seen the lawsuit when contacted but is reviewing it.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the organization’s Georgia chapter filed the latest lawsuit alleging violation of the constitutional rights of people arrested for misdemeanors. The lawsuit seeks an immediate and permanent change to what the ACLU called an unconstitutional cash bail system that discriminates against people who are financially strapped.
Those who cannot afford to pay money bail amounts determined by the county’s bail schedule are detained indefinitely, while those who face the same charges but can afford to pay the money bail amounts are freed until trial, the ACLU said in a news release Friday, which argued that low-income people are also denied effective, meaningful representation at bail hearings where an attorney could argue for their release.
“People who cannot afford to pay bail or hire a private attorney face an impossible choice—plead guilty or face loss of their families, jobs and homes as they wait for their cases to move through the system,” said Andrea Woods, an Equal Justice Works Fellowship attorney with the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project. “A person’s wealth should never decide their freedom, but that’s exactly what’s happening in Georgia and across the country. In Glynn County, the contract public defender and prosecutors alike refuse to grant people the presumption of innocence and ignore the government’s due process obligation to ensure that release upon arrest is the norm.”
“The Glynn County court system holds hostage the freedom of individuals arrested for misdemeanors, leaving those who are financially strapped unable to afford the predetermined ransom,” Sean Young, legal director of the ACLU of Georgia, said in the same news release.
The suit accuses officials in the county of operating a two-tiered system of justice based on wealth, in violation of the right-to-counsel and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution’s Sixth and 14th amendments, and equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
In addition to the complaint, the ACLU filed a motion for class certification and motions for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction. The ACLU said the bail amounts for the suit’s plaintiffs are each $1,256.
The Glynn County case is a continuation of efforts from the ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice to end wealth-based bail detention in Georgia and across the nation. It’s the third lawsuit the group has filed this year. The group said more are planned.