Atlanta Court Decision Could Make It Illegal To Hold People Who Cannot Pay Bail

Posted by Richard Lawson | Feb 23, 2017 | 0 Comments

When setting bail, it's as though the court assigns a dollar figure to your crime - a way to gauge the severity of the offense and ensure your appearance in court, with the possibility of adding to the county treasury. It is only if you fail to appear in court that your bail is not refunded. Among other things, bail calculations are supposed to take into account:

  • The defendant's ability to pay
  • The gravity of the offense
  • Public safety
  • Whether the accused is likely to return to court and answer to the charges

Bonding companies are available to those who cannot afford bail, usually charging just 12% of the bail fee - but many do not opt to use them.

Bail is but one of many hurdles involved in a DUI charge; as the first hurdle, it could prove insurmountable for some. For no reason other than financial standing, one person's inability to pay could result in that person awaiting trial in jail, while someone else with the same charge is free until their court date. A bail figure for DUI charges in Georgia normally factors in blood alcohol content, any prior DUI convictions, and the general circumstances of the arrest. It is difficult to give a definitive range for bail amounts in DUI cases, as they are sometimes subject to the discretion of the judge. Conservative estimates of bail for a Georgia DUI could range $150 - $2,500. On the highest end of the spectrum, they could be as much as $10,000.

However, too often bail is not commensurate with the offender's income. Regardless of the fact that the money will be returned to them, if an individual lacks the means to pay bail at the outset, then the refund is of no consequence. While some people can post a $1,000 bail without issue, for others the figure becomes a proverbial ball and chain. At the national level, unaffordable bails have shown to be problematic and unintentionally punitive. The New York Times Magazine published an essay by Nick Pinto entitled "The Bail Trap," exploring how the bail system yields an undue prejudice toward those whose financial situations don't permit them to pay. Pinto writes that 750,000 of America's incarcerated population are "in local city and county jails...60 percent [of whom] haven't been convicted of anything... [rather] many of them [are being held because they] cannot afford to pay the bail that has been set." While bail is meant to maximize public safety and ensure court appearance, the annual cost to taxpayers to incarcerate "bail trapped" individuals is $14 billion.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) set the wheels of bail reform in motion when they filed a document in a Georgia federal appeals court, arguing that jailing those who couldn't post bail was unconstitutional. The DOJ asserts that bail schedules that don't account for the ability to pay are unlawfully discriminatory. The ordeal began when a Georgia man on a fixed income of $540/month couldn't afford his $160 bail for walking while intoxicated. As the DOJ discussed in their brief, "...a bail practice that results in the incarceration of indigent individuals without meaningful consideration of their ability to pay and alternative methods of assuring their appearance at trial violates the Fourteenth Amendment." The money bail system, it has been consistently determined, disproportionately affects the poor.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Georgia will begin hearing arguments on Thursday; their decision could be a game-changer for the criminal justice system in Georgia.

Other states are considering bail reform as well. New Jersey is currently in the throes of a bail overhaul, with new laws mandating that most defendants will be released with no bail.

If you or someone you know has been charged with driving under the influence in Georgia, please do not hesitate to contact Georgia DUI Attorney Richard Lawson today.

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Richard Lawson

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