Jailing poor defendants because they can't afford bail is both unconstitutional and bad public policy, the Justice Department argued in August.
In an amicus brief to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of Maurice Walker, a mentally ill Georgia man who was jailed for six days when he couldn't afford to post bail, the Justice Department said schemes that don't consider an indigent defendant's ability to pay infringe on people's rights. "In addition to violating the Fourteenth Amendment, such bail systems result in the unnecessary incarceration of people and impede the fair administration of justice for indigent arrestees," the Justice Department wrote.
Walker is suing the city of Calhoun, Georgia, for locking him up for nearly a week over a $160 fixed cash bond. He was arrested on charges of being a pedestrian under the influence. Walker, 54, has serious mental health issues and a limited, fixed income, according to the complaint. He was released from jail after two civil rights advocacy groups, the Southern Center for Human Rights and Equal Justice Under Law, filed a class-action lawsuit against the city.
"Hundreds of thousands of human beings are held in American cages every night solely because they are too poor to make a payment," Alec Karakatsanis, co-founder of Equal Justice Under Law, said. "Today's amicus filings of support by a wide range of groups, including the Department of Justice, takes us closer to finally eradicating poverty jailing from American society."
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "No Jail Over Bail".