The Justice Department is trying to convince a federal judge to end the alleged practice of a local court setting fixed bail amounts for certain petty crimes, saying it is unfair to poor people, the Wall Street Journal reports. The lawsuit was filed by Christy Varden, 41, a mother of two. She sued the city of Clanton, Al., after she was arrested in January outside a Wal-Mart and charged with four offenses, including shoplifting. She was told she would have to pay a $500 bond for each of the offenses. Because she was unemployed and had no money, she was jailed until the day after she filed the lawsuit, when she was released on her own recognizance.
The Justice Department argues no court should set bail or bond amounts based solely on the charge. “If Clanton's bail system indeed fixes bond amounts based solely on the arrest charge, and does not take individual circumstances into account, the court should find this system to be unconstitutional. Not only are such schemes offensive to equal protection principles, they also constitute bad policy,'' the Justice Department argued. The issue of fines and bail for petty crimes is the subject of a lawsuit against officials in Ferguson, Mo., where police practices have come under scrutiny since an officer shot and killed an unarmed man in August. Bail practices vary widely from county to county. If the Justice Department prevails, it could affect the way many small jurisdictions handle petty crime cases.