ACLU Sues Georgia County Over Discriminatory Cash Bail System
BRUNSWICK, Ga. — The ACLU of Georgia and the American Civil Liberties Union have filed a federal class action lawsuit against Glynn County, Glynn County Sheriff E. Neal Jump, Glynn County Chief Magistrate Judge Alex Atwood, and B. Reid Zeh, III, seeking an immediate and permanent change to an unconstitutional cash bail system that discriminates against people who are financially strapped.
As the lawsuit explains, people accused of misdemeanor crimes in Glynn County are treated differently based on the amount of money they have, which violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The county, along with Sheriff Jump and Judge Atwood, has set predetermined amounts of cash bail for each misdemeanor offense, a practice that violates nearly 40 years of U.S. Supreme Court precedent. In Bearden v. Georgia (1983), the Supreme Court stated that people cannot be jailed simply for being poor. The high court wrote, "Over a quarter-century ago, Justice Black declared that '[t]here can be no equal justice where the kind of trial a man gets depends on the amount of money he has.'"
“The Glynn County court system holds hostage the freedom of individuals arrested for misdemeanors,” stated Sean J. Young, Legal Director of the ACLU of Georgia, "leaving those who are financially strapped unable to afford the predetermined ransom.”
For example, plaintiff Margery Mock is incarcerated on a $1,256 bond on an alleged criminal trespassing charge from trying to visit a relative at a motel. Because she is unable to pay the cash bond, Ms. Mock remains in jail.
In addition, the lawsuit claims that those who are accused of misdemeanors and unable to hire a defense attorney are left to contend with Mr. Zeh, an attorney who contracts with Glynn County to represent them. However, as the suit alleges, Mr. Zeh has a practice of failing to visit detained clients or to represent them in bail proceedings. This is a violation of the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of a meaningful defense.
“People who cannot afford to pay bail or hire a private attorney face an impossible choice: plead guilty, or face loss of their families, jobs, and homes as they wait for their cases to move through the system,” said Andrea Woods, Equal Justice Works Fellowship Attorney with the ACLU's Criminal Law Reform Project. “A person’s wealth should never decide their freedom, but that’s exactly what’s happening in Georgia and across the country. In Glynn County, the contract public defender and prosecutors alike refuse to grant people the presumption of innocence and ignore the government’s due process obligation to ensure that release upon arrest is the norm.”
The lawsuit filed today includes a complaint, a motion for class certification, and a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.
The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice – an unprecedented effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50 percent and to combat racial disparities in the criminal justice system – has launched a new initiative focused on bolstering the movement to end money bail and eliminate wealth-based pretrial detention through legislative advocacy, voter education, and litigation. The lawsuit in Glynn County is the third related filing by the ACLU in 2018 alone, with many more to come in the effort to end our over reliance on the cash bail system.