In a judgment rendered in response to a federal lawsuit filed by Equal Justice Under Law and ArchCity Defenders, Velda City—a city in St. Louis County, Missouri—has ended the practice of requiring secured cash bail for all offenses prosecuted in municipal court. The landmark case has national pretrial justice advocates taking notice, as it offers a new way to overturn unconstitutional bail and money-based detention practices that keep poor defendants behind bars for no other reason than their inability to pay.
Said Alec Karakatsanis, attorney and co-founder of Equal Justice Under Law—one of the groups that filed the suit:
“No human being should be held in a cage, before or after trial, because of her poverty. This court ruling sets a precedent that should be applied nationally, ensuring that no arrested person remains in jail simply because they are too poor to pay bail.”
Said Thomas Harvey, executive director of and co-founder of ArchCity Defenders—one of the groups that filed this suit:
“We’ve simply become too comfortable with locking up poor and black people up in America. This historic order paves the way for transformational change to a justice system both regionally and nationally. ”
Said Cherise Fanno Burdeen, executive director of Pretrial Justice Institute:
“The Pierce v. Velda City ruling has been a long time coming. For decades, courts in the U.S. have required arrested individuals to buy their way out of detention or remain incarcerated before conviction. These policies have fueled our nation’s over-incarceration crisis and ruined lives. We are pleased to see the Court has recognized that, not only is the practice of secured bond unfair, it is unconstitutional, too.
“The Pretrial Justice Institute believes that no one should be jailed because of poverty. We applaud that justice was carried out in this case and that it establishes an important precedent we hope is adopted across the country—the elimination of secured cash bail.”
The suit was filed on behalf of 26 year-old Donya Pierce who was arrested on April 2 and required to pay $800 (later modified by police to be $650) before being released on charges of having a headlight out, driving with a suspended license and no proof of insurance.
Under the judgment, Velda City must now release people on recognizance or an unsecured bond. The court also outlined a series of steps that Velda City agreed to take if the arrestee does not show up at their scheduled court date. More here.
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The Pretrial Justice Institute is a national organization working to advance safe, fair, and effective pretrial justice that honors and protects all people. We do this by working collaboratively with organizations and funders who support pragmatic solutions guided by research and the law. Learn more at www.pretrial.org.