It has been a while since I have been involved in this subject. I did receive this rather curious email:
Dear Mr. Barrett,
I’d like to see if you would be interested in a newsworthy story/interview regarding a current hot-button court case —
Much like the current presidential campaign, factions are divided in a heated federal court case that may decide the very constitutionality of the U.S. bail system. Stepping into the fray is the Department of Justice, which is taking what some feel is a controversial position in the proceedings.
Why is this a big deal? What are the ramifications for the average, law-abiding citizen? Depending on the outcome, it could actually strip away accountability from our criminal justice system.
The case is Maurice Walker v. the City of Calhoun, Georgia, which will be taking place this fall in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Essentially, the plaintiffs are arguing that poverty alone is a reason for lawbreakers to not be held in jail. It concerns a 54-year-old man who was arrested for public intoxication. His bail was set for $160, but because he could not afford it, he was forced to spend six days in jail before being released when his lawyers, objecting to his jailing, filed suit. The suit contends that he was denied his legal right to bail because of his inability to pay the amount indicated by a set bond schedule.
From a practical standpoint, if the court rules that it is unconstitutional to hold a person who can’t afford bail even one minute longer than one who can, it will open a Pandora’s Box of federal lawsuits to any individual for whom a money bail has been set. It will have the practical effect of ending bail.
Passions are high in this case and more than half-a-dozen similar cases are unfolding around the country. Those who side with the plaintiff argue on behalf of compassion and against what they say is a system fundamentally rigged against the people in society least able to fend for themselves.
On the other hand, those who caution against a wholesale dumping of the current bail system say its elimination would be catastrophic. They contend that bail provides the single most vital component of our criminal justice: accountability. That is, if someone knows they’re getting out of jail for free – and that if they don’t show up for court, no one is coming to get them – they have little incentive to be answerable for their actions.
Recently, the U.S. Department of Justice issued an amicus brief on the Walker v. Calhoun case, putting what appeared to be a governmental seal of approval on the matter. However, former U.S. Solicitor General, Paul Clement also issued his own amicus brief in the case, arguing directly against the contentions in the same suit.
So who is right? The drama will be playing out in the 11th Circuit and may eventually find its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
To address this hotly contested matter of law, I would like to offer an interview with Jeff Clayton, Policy Director of the American Bail Coalition, a non-profit organization that is committed to developing the most efficient means for the pretrial release of criminal defendants by reducing the financial impact on state government and taxpayers, while maximizing public safety.
Jeff offers the view that criminal justice is all about holding individuals to be answerable for their actions and making sure that those charged with a crime have their day in court. If they are found guilty, they bear the legal obligation to pay their debt to society. He argues that if that oversight is removed, then justice has been denied, especially for the very people it was designed to serve. In the process, public safety is put at great risk, with potentially dangerous individuals left to roam the streets.
In an interview, Jeff can offer his perspective on such questions as:
– Why does this Georgia-based case have national implications?
– Is it true that bail is guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution?
– If commercial bail were eliminated, in what ways could public safety be threatened?
– How does former Attorney General Eric Holder factor into this current case?
– What are the chances of this case going all the way to the Supreme Court?
About Jeff Clayton, Policy Director of the American Bail Coalition:
Jeff Clayton joined the American Bail Coalition as Policy Director in May 2015. He has worked in various capacities as a public policy and government relations professional for fifteen years, and also as licensed attorney for the past twelve years. Most recently, he worked as the General Counsel for the Professional Bail Agents of Colorado, in addition to serving other clients in legal, legislative, and policy matters. Jeff spent six years in government service, representing the Colorado State Courts and Probation Department, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, and the United States Secretary of Transportation. He is also a prior Presidential Management Fellow and Finalist for the U.S. Supreme Court fellows program. Mr. Clayton holds a B.B.A. from Baylor University, a M.S. (Public Policy) from the University of Rochester, N.Y., and a J.D. from the Sturm College of Law, University of Denver. (www.americanbailcoalition.org)
Please let me know if you would like to speak with Jeff and I would be happy to make the arrangements.
Thank you for your consideration.