Eleventh Circuit: Cash Bail System in Georgia Town Upheld

Eleventh Circuit: Cash Bail System in Georgia Town Upheld

The inability to make bail, which then results in an arrestee sitting in jail longer than other arrestees who can make bail, is not enough under the law to require changes in one Georgia’ town’s cash bail system. Calhoun, Georgia’s revised cash bail system that requires a hearing within 48 hours of arrest to determine whether the accused may be released due to inability to pay bail has been upheld by a federal appeals court. The two-one decision from the Atlanta-based Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s injunction, according to reporting by the Atlanta-Journal Constitution.


The Case

The case is Walker v. City of Calhoun, in which the accused was an unemployed man who was arrested on charges of being a pedestrian under the influence of alcohol. At the time of Walker’s stint in custody, arrestees who were unable to make bail were given a court hearing on the next Monday, assuming it was not a holiday. In Walker’s case, he was arrested before Labor Day, meaning he would not be given a hearing for 11 days. After spending five days in jail, Walker sued. As a result, the City of Calhoun released him. The city then shorted the hearing period for arrestees. The district court ruled that poor arrestees received different treatment than those who could make bail and be released without the 48 hour wait.


The Holding

The Eleventh Circuit found the lower court committed legal error when it insisted on a 24-hour window for a bail hearing, according to the majority opinion. The district court’s adoption of an affidavit process for determining an accused’s inability to pay was also legal error, according to the Eleventh Circuit opinion. Ultimately, the Court held there was no constitutional basis for the lower court imposing a preferred method of setting bail for accuseds. The Court found no need to evaluate Walker’s claim, one where the issue is wealth, using heightened scrutiny. If it used the same standard of review as those claims based on sex, religion, and race, the Court reasoned, the courts would be flooded with litigation.


Both Sides

In a press release, the American Bail Coalition supported the Eleventh Circuit’s decision. Not surprisingly, The Southern Center for Human Rights told news outlets that the plaintiff’s lawyers were considering requesting a hearing of the full 11th Circuit. The American Bar Association, on the other hand, had previously filed an amicus brief in the Walker case urging the Appeals Court to affirm the trial court order enjoining Calhoun’s bail system.


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