Federal Court Condemns Calhoun City Practice of Jailing People Too Poor to Pay the Bond Set for Minor Offenses

29th January, 2016
Southern Center for Human Rights

Calhoun, Georgia – In an order that will have far-reaching effects throughout Georgia, a federal judge yesterday condemned the City of Calhoun’s money bail system – a system that permitted the wealthy to purchase their release from jail, while detaining the indigent for up to one week. The order came in a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of indigent people charged with minor crimes in Calhoun, where city and court practices resulted in days of jail for people unable to afford to pay a monetary bond. The case, Walker v. City of Calhoun, is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

 

Under City of Calhoun policy, many people arrested for minor traffic or misdemeanor offenses in Calhoun are released from custody almost immediately upon payment of money to the City. But, at the time this lawsuit was filed in September 2015, those arrestees who were too poor to purchase their release remained in jail because of their poverty for a week or longer before a first court appearance.

 

In September 2015, Plaintiff Maurice Walker was jailed for the offense of “pedestrian under the influence.”  Under Calhoun’s policy, a wealthy person charged with the same offense would have been released immediately upon payment of $160 – the amount of money generically set by the City’s pre-set bail schedule. But Walker is a 54-year-old disabled man who owns no property and has little income because he is unable to work. He could not afford to pay bail, and was therefore being held until the city court’s next session, nearly two weeks away.  Walker was released after 6 days in jail after his pro bono attorneys filed a lawsuit on his behalf.   

 

In his lawsuit, Walker sought a preliminary injunction assuring that his rights and the rights of the other class members would not continue to be violated.  Judge Harold L. Murphy granted the preliminary injunction, stating that the City “may not continue to keep arrestees in its custody for any amount of time solely because the arrestees cannot afford a secured monetary bond.”  The Court continued: “keeping individuals in jail solely because they cannot pay for their release, whether via fines, fees, or a cash bond, is impermissible.”  The Court further granted Mr. Walker’s motion for class certification.

 

“This order sends a clear message to Calhoun and other cities that keep people in jail only because they cannot afford to purchase their release,” said Sarah Geraghty, one of Mr. Walker’s attorneys. “No one should be held in a jail cell for any amount of time solely because of his or her poverty,” said Plaintiff’s counsel, Alec Karakatsanis.  The class is represented by attorneys from the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta and Equal Justice Under Law, a non-profit civil rights organization based in Washington, D.C.

 

To read the Complaint, click here

To read the Order granting Plaintiff a preliminary injunction, click here.

 

For additional information, contact Kathryn Hamoudah at 404/688-1202 or khamoudah@schr.org