For Second Time, Federal Court Condemns Calhoun City Practice of Jailing People Too Poor to Pay Money Bail for Minor Offenses

18th June, 2017

Calhoun, Georgia – A federal judge has, for a second time, 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 on Friday, June 16, 2017, in a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of indigent people charged with minor crimes in Calhoun, where city policy 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.

The lawsuit was originally filed in September 2015, after Plaintiff Maurice Walker was jailed for the offense of “pedestrian under the influence.”  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.  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. Walker was released after 6 days in jail after his pro bono attorneys from the Southern Center for Human Rights and Civil Rights Corps filed a lawsuit on his behalf.    

Judge Harold Murphy issued his first injunction against the City’s money bail policy on January 28, 2016, but the City of Calhoun appealed that ruling.  In March 2017, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that the wording of the injunction needed greater specificity about what the Constitution required and how the City could comply.  After the case was returned to the District Court, the City announced that it planned to return to a modified version of its money bail policy, in which indigent people accused of misdemeanors would be held for up to 48 hours (instead of up to 7 days, as had been the City’s previous policy) before a judge inquired into their ability to pay money bail.  

On Friday, the federal court forbade the City from doing so, stating:

“[T]he [City’s bail policy] establishes a mechanism by which non-indigent arrestees may obtain immediate release, while indigent arrestees must wait an additional forty-eight hours to have the opportunity to obtain release, simply because of the arrestee’s financial condition.  This is impermissible.” 

The June 16 Order prohibits the City from detaining indigent people who are otherwise eligible for release but are unable to pay money bail because of their poverty, and provides guidance as to how the City can change its policy to comply with the Constitution.

“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 of the Southern Center for Human Rights.  Civil Rights Corps’ Alec Karakatsanis stated, “No one should be held in a jail cell for any amount of time solely because of his or her poverty.” 

Mr. Walker and the class are represented by attorneys from the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta and Civil Rights Corps, a non-profit civil rights organization based in Washington, D.C.  To read the Order in this case, click here.

For additional information, contact: 

Kathryn Hamoudah at 404-688-1202, [email protected]

Alec Karakatsanis at 202-599-0953, [email protected]