ACLU sues Florida to challenge bail system

ACLU sues Florida to challenge bail system

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The Florida Civil Liberties Union filed a collective petition this week on behalf of 11 people who were arrested pre-trial in Sarasota and Manatee prisons because they could not pay bail.

The petition has been filed with Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals, and seeks to challenge the counties’ practice of imposing bail on people, keeping them locked up before trial.

This could ruin the lives of those who did not turn up after their day in court. ACLU plaintiffs in Florida petitioned the court to demand that the case be validated as a class action against the defendants (the word used for defendant in the legal petition).

The defendants named in the petition are Kurt Hoffman, the mayor of Sarasota County, and Sheriff Rick Wells, the Sheriff of Manatee County, along with the state of Florida.

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The petition claims that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires the state to demonstrate that such bail processes are clearly necessary. The American Civil Liberties Union says the state hardly lives up to that mandate.

Each of the 11 people named in the petition testified that they could not afford bail, but the state failed to show that no alternative conditions for their release were viable.

“Unaffordable cash bail without due process promotes incarceration based on wealth and is an unconstitutional practice,” Benjamin Stephenson, a staff attorney for the ACLU in Florida, said in a news release. “People caught up in this system often lose their jobs, homes, and ability to care for their families and prepare for trial, simply because they cannot afford their freedom before trial.”

Benjamin went on to say that for too long the state had ignored the fact that the arrest was the result of unaffordable bail. He said detention is imposed on those who cannot pay bail, without really examining whether there are other options and whether locking up a person is really the only reasonable solution.

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The practice of exorbitant bail is widespread in Florida although there are alternative tools to ensure that people return to court. It also adds additional financial burdens to the Florida criminal justice system, the Florida Civil Liberties Union says. Housing a person in prison in Manatee and Sarasota counties costs about $100 a day. The group says every Florida county jail holds nearly 300 people behind bars because they can’t afford the bail money.

“No one should be in jail just because they can’t afford bail. However, millions of dollars of Florida taxpayer money is being spent on unfairly detaining people without due process just because they don’t have enough money to buy their freedom.” This is an unfair and unAmerican system. The continued functioning of this wealth-based incarceration system only serves to increase racial disparities in our criminal justice system.”

George Whitfield is a petitioner in this class action petition. He was arrested for possession of drugs and paraphernalia. The Sarasota court set the bail amount at $2,000 even after learning Mr. Whitfield could not pay it, was neither a danger to his community nor an escape risk, and was employed at the time. Because he cannot afford his freedom, Mr. Whitfield has been held pre-trial in Sarasota Prison since August 4 and has since lost his job.

“Whitfield is just one of thousands of people who face an impossible situation on a daily basis in Florida,” said Jerry Edwards, employee attorney at the Florida Civil Liberties Union. their families, and forced to sit in prison for days, months, or possibly years while their case travels through the system regardless of their guilt or innocence. Florida people and their families deserve better. This is not justice.”

This story originally appeared on Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.

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