In northeast Georgia, many rural counties and municipalities have bond schedules for many offenses. If a person is arrested for an offense that is on the schedule, the person can post that bond and be released. If the person cannot post bond, they may sit in jail for days or weeks or more before being brought to court. With a lot of these schedules, the amount of the bond matches the amount of the anticipated fine.
A federal lawsuit was brought against the City of Velda City, Missouri, seeking declaratory relief that the use of such a bail schedule violated the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.
A person committing an offense on the bail schedule is entitled to immediate release if the person can pay money but not if the person cannot. This is different treatment based on nothing more than ability to pay.
The parties have settled that action. The District Court for the Eastern Division entered an order and declared that such an implementation of a bail schedule does implicate the protections of the Fourteenth Amendment. It declared that:
If the government generally offers prompt release from custody after arrest upon posting a bond pursuant to a schedule, it cannot deny prompt release form custody to a person because the person is financially incapable of posting such a bond.
In the context of the this case, it was ordered that the city stop utilizing secured money bail for any offenses prosecuted in the city court. The City will be allowed to let such offenders sign recognizance bonds (no money amount) or unsecured money bonds (money amount but not paid unless the person does not come to court). There is an exception for case where special conditions of pretrial release will be imposed, but such cases must be brought before a judge within 24 hours. There are also strict requirements on the process to be followed if a person does not appear in court.
The provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment apply just as much in Georgia as in Missouri. Municipal and magistrate judges in Georgia may be well-advised to examine this case and determine whether changes need to be made.