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Prisoner Education Guide

Georgia: Federal Court Finds Bond System Unfair to Indigent Defendants, Enters Injunction

Maurice Walker, 54, was arrested in the City of Calhoun, Georgia for public intoxication in September 2015, and told that if he posted a $160 bond he could go free until his first court date. Unfortunately Walker was indigent, living on a small fixed income and could not afford to pay the bond; consequently, he had to spend two weeks in jail. He filed a § 1983 civil rights suit in federal court that alleged Fourteenth Amendment due process violations and requested both preliminary and permanent injunctive relief. After extensive litigation, the court ordered the city to modify its bond system.

In his lawsuit, later certified as a class-action, Walker challenged “the use of fixed amounts of secured money bail that results in the detention of only the poorest of those arrested for petty offenses.” He sought “a declaration that [such] conduct is unlawful, and injunctive relief assuring that his rights and the rights of the other class members will not continue to be violated.”

Walker also alleged that the city had a policy and practice of refusing “to release traffic and misdemeanor arrestees from jail unless they pay a generically set bond amount,” which varied by offense but usually ranged from $90 to $1,000, according to the district court. The court accepted Walker’s assertions that the city failed to consider any “individualized factors” in setting bonds, and that “anyone who cannot afford to pay is held in jail for up to seven days before [Defendant] brings its arrestees before the municipal court.”

Walker stated in his complaint that as a result of his arrest he was denied the medication he is required to take on a daily basis for a mental health condition, and that since he did not receive the medication while incarcerated due to his inability to post bond, he was hospitalized for a short time following his release.

After reviewing the evidence submitted by the parties, the district court found the facts were not in dispute and the matter was “ripe for resolution.” In its findings of fact, the court held that Walker was entitled to a preliminary injunction because his claims had a substantial likelihood of success. “The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment generally prohibits ‘punishing a person for his poverty,’” the court wrote, citing Bearden v. Georgia, 461 U.S. 660 (1983).

The district court further noted that recent decisions, including Cooper v. City of Dothan, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 78813 (M.D. Ala. June 18, 2015), had found similar bond procedures unconstitutional. Most persuasive was the ruling in United States v. Flowers, 946 F.Supp.2d 1295 (M.D. Ala. May 22, 2013), which held “It is unconstitutional to keep a defendant in prison longer than the maximum time for her crime merely because she is unable to pay a court-ordered fine, and, similarly, it violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the laws to convert a fine-only sentence into a prison term based on inability to pay.”

In another recent case, the City of Moss Point, Mississippi was ordered to stop using its secured bail system after a lawsuit was filed challenging that practice. [See: PLN, June 2016, p.42].

The district court granted Walker’s motion for a preliminary injunction banning the defendant’s bond procedures on January 28, 2016, despite the fact that the city had changed its bond system shortly after he filed suit.

The court ordered the city “to implement post-arrest procedures that comply with the Constitution, and ... 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 custody for any amount of time solely because the arrestees cannot afford a secured monetary bond.”

The City of Calhoun has appealed the injunction and class-action certification, and its appeal remains pending. See: Walker v. City of Calhoun, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ga.), Case No. 4:15-cv-00170-HLM; 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12305. 

Related legal cases

Walker v. City of Calhoun

Cooper v. City of Dothan


 

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