Yesterday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas, the national ACLU and Arnold & Porter filed a federal class-action lawsuit against Galveston County, Texas, for violating the constitutional rights of individuals arrested for misdemeanors and felonies. The lawsuit is part of the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice, which aims to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50 percent and to combat racial disparities within the criminal justice system.
The lawsuit was not only brought against Galveston County, but also the county’s judges who hear felonies and misdemeanors, the county magistrates and the district attorney. The lawsuit alleges that Galveston County’s money bail system violates the Constitution by keeping people in jail if they cannot afford bail. The people who can afford bail, however, are allowed to go home to their families, jobs and communities.
“A person’s wealth should never decide their freedom, but that’s exactly what’s happening in Texas and across the country,” said Brandon Buskey, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project.
In Galveston, a dollar amount is assigned to each offense. If a person can pay the full amount to the sheriff in cash, property or through a bail bond company, the sheriff will release that person immediately. Those who cannot pay the predetermined bail amount have to remain in jail indefinitely.
“A person’s wealth should never decide their freedom, but that’s exactly what’s happening in Texas and across the country,” said Brandon Buskey, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project. “Galveston’s bail system disregards the presumption of innocence, destroys families, and negatively affects jobs, and homes.”
Each day a person spends in jail, their chances of a fair trial decrease, as evidence and witnesses disappear. Further, many people who are innocent ultimately plead guilty just to end the ordeal.
“Studies consistently show that individuals who are held in jail until trial are more likely to be convicted, and more likely to be sentenced to prison, than those who are released pending trial,” said Christopher Odell, an attorney with Arnold & Porter. “Our goal is to ensure that the criminal justice system is fair to everyone in Galveston County, whether they’re rich or poor or somewhere in between.”
Read more here.