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Mississippi Town Ordered to Abandon “Secured Bail” Arrest Bond System

Chevon E. Thompson, an unemployed, indigent mother of three, was arrested by Moss Point, Mississippi police for shoplifting, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. She was told that if she posted a bond of $3,200 for the three charges she would be released, but if she couldn’t she would remain in jail until a bond hearing, which could take up to a week. Her case caught the attention of the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi School of Law, which promptly filed a federal civil rights suit that sought class-action status on behalf of all indigent defendants without funds to obtain their release on bail pending trial.

Moss Point utilized a system of “secured bail” arrest bonds that made no provision for the financial status of the arrestees – a system that as early as the 1960s was recognized to be blatantly discriminatory. Under a secured bail system, defendants with money could secure their release while those who had allegedly committed similar offenses but were unable to post the fixed bond amount stayed in jail. This resulted not only in many innocent people being unnecessarily confined due to lack of funds, but also forced many of them to lose whatever employment they had at the time of their arrest.

The U.S. Department of Justice moved to intervene, citing case law that prohibited such bail practices as a due process violation. The district court agreed, and on November 6, 2015 issued a declaratory judgment against the city, stating “The use of a secured bail schedule to set the conditions for release of a person in custody after arrest for an offense that may be prosecuted by the City of Moss Point implicates the protections of the Equal Protection Clause when such a schedule is applied to the indigent.”

The court explained that “No person may, consistent with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, be held in custody after an arrest because the person is too poor to post a monetary bond. If the government generally offers prompt release from custody after arrest upon posting a bond pursuant to a schedule, it cannot deny prompt release from custody to a person because the person is financially incapable of posting such a bond.”

Less than a week after the district court’s ruling, the parties settled the case. Pursuant to the settlement agreement, the City of Moss Point agreed to “not utilize secured money bail for persons in the custody of the City on arrest, either without a warrant or on the initial warrant issued, for any offense that may be prosecuted by the city”; further, Moss Point agreed it would offer signature or personal recognizance bonds to arrestees, and would “not jail any person for non-payment of any monetary sum from fines, costs, fees, or bond revocations” without adhering to applicable constitutional procedures.

The district court retained jurisdiction over the case to ensure compliance with its declaratory judgment order. See: Thompson v. Moss Point, Mississippi, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Miss.), Case No. 1:15-cv-00182-LG-RHW. 

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Related legal case

Thompson v. Moss Point