Mock v. Glynn County
The ACLU of Georgia and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal class action lawsuit against Glynn County, Glynn County Sheriff E. Neal Jump, Glynn County Chief Magistrate Judge Alex Atwood, and B. Reid Zeh, III, seeking an immediate and permanent change to an unconstitutional cash bail system that discriminates against people who are financially strapped.
As the lawsuit explained, people accused of misdemeanor crimes in Glynn County are treated differently based on the amount of money they have, which violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The county, along with Sheriff Jump and Judge Atwood, had set predetermined amounts of cash bail for each misdemeanor offense, a practice that violates nearly 40 years of U.S. Supreme Court precedent. In Bearden v. Georgia (1983), the Supreme Court stated that people cannot be jailed simply for being poor. The high court wrote, “Over a quarter-century ago, Justice Black declared that ‘[t]here can be no equal justice where the kind of trial a man gets depends on the amount of money he has.’”
One plaintiff was incarcerated on a $1,256 bond on an alleged criminal trespassing charge from trying to visit a relative at a motel. Because she is unable to pay the cash bond, she remained in jail.
The lawsuit claimed that those who are accused of misdemeanors and unable to hire a defense attorney were left to contend with Mr. Zeh, an attorney who contracts with Glynn County to represent them. However, as the suit alleged, Mr. Zeh had a practice of failing to visit detained clients or to represent them in bail proceedings. This is a violation of the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of a meaningful defense.
On July 2, 2019, the ACLU, ACLU of Georgia, James A. Yancey Jr., and Glynn County announced that they had reached an agreement to reform the bail determination system for misdemeanor cases in Glynn County. The parties worked together to implement changes designed to improve the system for addressing bond for individuals that have been arrested on misdemeanor charges and cannot afford to post cash bail. These reforms include the following:
Bail hearings being held at least four times per week with none more than 48 hours apart;
Prompt judicial evaluations of bail amounts using an improved financial hardship/indigency affidavit and considering what amount of money the person who is arrested is “currently able to pay”;
Improved notice to arrestees of issues relating to bail determinations, including the ability to seek reconsideration of bail determinations and information about future court appearances, as well as contact information for the public defender; and
A term of independent monitoring to ensure continued implementation of the agreed changes to the bail determination system.
Former Glynn County Chief Magistrate Judge Alex Atwood, who has a long legacy of commitment to the Constitution and criminal justice reform, showed particular leadership in revising the misdemeanor bail practices in Glynn County. Sheriff Neal Jump similarly assisted with developing and implementing these important changes.
March 9, 2018
American Civil Liberties Union Foundation Criminal Law Reform Project
American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia
James A. Yancey, Jr.