JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Georgia are suing Glynn County over what they’re calling an “unconstitutional cash bail system” that discriminates against the poor.
The federal class action lawsuit, filed Friday in the U.S. District Court in Brunswick, accuses the county of violating the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.
According to the complaint, people charged with misdemeanor crimes who cannot afford to pay the bail are jailed indefinitely without the opportunity to “meaningfully argue for their release.”
The suit includes a motion for class certification and a second motion seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to block authorities from keeping low-income arrestees in jail.
Sean Young, legal director for the ACLU of Georgia, said the Glynn County court system “holds hostage the freedom” of low-income individuals who cannot afford to pay the “ransom” needed for their release.
The suit argues that the county has for years required defendants to pay their bail amounts upfront. It goes on to say that bail amounts are set at a fixed rate, based only on the defendant’s charge.
While those who can afford to pay for bail are immediately eligible for release, those who cannot “may remain in jail for weeks, even months,” according to a copy of the complaint.
The complaint cites the examples of Margery Mock and Eric “Scotty” Ogden, who were arrested Wednesday on trespass charges. Their bails were set at $1,256 before they went before a judge.
Neither has that kind of money.
Those who can’t afford to hire attorneys are instead represented by B. Reid Zeh III. The complaint states that Zeh, a contract attorney hired by the county, has a history of not advocating for clients.
Zeh is named in the lawsuit, along with Glynn County Sheriff E. Neal Jump and Chief Magistrate Judge Alex Atwood. The suits argues that all three play a role in denying people’s constitutional rights.
Andrea Woods, an attorney with the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project, said for lack of better options, poor people can either plead guilty or wait in limbo for their cases to move forward.
“A person’s wealth should never decide their freedom, but that’s exactly what’s happening in Georgia and across the country,” she said.