No Constitutional Right to Cash Bail, Federal Court Rules

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Photo by Shay Sowden via Flickr

Want to pay your way out of jail? You might be out of luck, a federal appeals court ruled Monday, in a decision that was met with cheers from the American Civil Liberties Union and other justice advocacy groups.

The class-action lawsuit before the Philadelphia-based 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals challenged the 2017 New Jersey law prioritizing non-monetary conditions of release over cash bail, where decisions on release are determined by a risk assessment that considers a defendant’s criminal history and the seriousness of the charges.

One defendant, released on home detention with an ankle monitor, argued the law violated several of his constitutional rights, reports the American Bar Association Journal. According to Britton Holland, who was arrested on charges of aggravated assault following a bar fight, the conditions set for his release constituted “excessive bail,” an unreasonable search, and violated his right to due process.

Holland was joined by a second plaintiff, Lexington National Insurance Corporation, a company that does business with the bail bond industry.

After first stating that Lexington National had no standing to challenge the law, the 3rd Circuit rejected all three of Holland’s arguments.

According to ABA reporter Debra Weiss, the court reasoned that at the time these constitutional rights were minted, bail relied on “personal sureties” who would guarantee a defendant’s appearance in court, a system that gradually deteriorated with the adoption of cash bail.

The court found that the original 8th Amendment right to bail therefore does not “include a right to make a cash deposit or to obtain a corporate surety bond to secure pretrial release.”

The court also rejected Holland’s due process argument, as well as his claims of a 4th Amendment violation created by his ankle bracelet, which he argued was more intrusive than cash bail.

In a press release yesterday, ALCU-NJ senior supervising attorney Alexander Shalom said, “This important decision confirms what bipartisan lawmakers in New Jersey have known for years: there is no reason — legal or otherwise — why the thickness of anyone’s wallet should dictate their liberty and freedom.”

The ACLU of New Jersey was joined by the National ACLU, the Drug Policy Alliance, Latino Action Network and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) New Jersey State Conference in submitting a friend-of-the-court brief to the court.

The full decision can be read here.

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