The money bail system in Randolph County, Alabama, violated the constitutional rights of people charged with misdemeanors or felonies because it created a “two-tiered” system of justice based on wealth. The Southern Poverty Law Center and its allies filed a federal class action lawsuit to end the practice. It was among the first to challenge the constitutionality of felony bail practices.
Within hours of the lawsuit’s filing, a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order preventing officials from continuing to jail plaintiff Kandace Edwards for her inability to pay bail.
As in many other jurisdictions across the country, people charged with crimes in Randolph County were jailed following arrest if they couldn’t afford to pay bail. Those who faced the same charges but could afford to pay were freed until trial.
The suit was filed on behalf of Edwards, 29, in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, Eastern Division. It accuses judicial and county officials of violating her due process and equal protection rights.
Edwards, who had two young children and was seven months pregnant at the time, was arrested for forging a $75 check. She was held in jail because she could not afford to pay $7,500 required by the court’s bail schedule. Edwards, who served in the Army National Guard from 2006 until 2010, wrote in a declaration accompanying the complaint that she had recently lost her job due to her high-risk pregnancy and was homeless.
In Randolph County, each offense had an assigned dollar amount. Anyone who could pay the full amount or arrange for payment through a bail bond company or other third party, was released automatically, without regard to whether they were likely to flee before trial or be a danger to the community. Those who could not pay remained in jail for up to a month for a release hearing. If they were not released after the hearing, they faced six months in jail – or longer – until trial, because trials were scheduled only twice per year.
Studies show that money bail systems like Randolph County’s make it more likely that innocent people will plead guilty before trial so they can get out of jail. The SPLC’s co-counsel included the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Alabama, and the Civil Rights Corps.