Chairman Stone and members of the Judiciary committee, my name is Burrell Ellis and I’m the Political Director of the ACLU of Georgia.
Today, I’d like to talk about three Constitutional principles regarding Senate Bill 407 and misdemeanor bail reform.
First, the Presumption of Innocence is a fundamental principle of due process under the U.S. Constitution. We ask that there be a statement affirming this long-recognized principle of presumption of innocence in Part II of the bill.
Second, we ask that there be specific language affirming Presumption of Release for bailable offenses. The U.S. Supreme Court recognized long ago the fundamental right to pretrial liberty, except for carefully limited exceptional circumstances.
Section 2-4 requires courts to impose “least restrictive conditions possible” and speaks against “excessive bail”. As the least restrictive condition is release without cash bail, we propose that the bill state just that.
Third, we ask your consideration of the Purpose of Bail, which is to ensure appearance in court. We propose more use of citations in lieu of arrests, rather than arrest-by-citation, for low level nonviolent offenses.
Sections 2-2 and 2-3 are steps in the right direction, but fail to go far enough. Specific authority to issue citations in lieu of arrests
– reduce jail time,
– save taxpayer dollars,
– promote safety by keeping officers on the street instead of spending hours transporting people to jail for petty violations, and
– remove collateral impediments of an arrest record such as housing, education, and job opportunity.
Finally, we oppose the proposed mandatory minimums contained in the bill, because these are not criminal justice reforms. They are more of the same failed policies that have filled our prisons, driven up taxpayer costs, and failed to keep us safer.
I stand here today as living, breathing evidence of why it matters to have the Constitution.
Because of the Constitution, we have a Bill of Rights.
Because of the Constitution, we have guarantees of liberty and justice.
Because of the Constitution, we have protections from authoritarian rule.
We are protected, without warning, against search, seizure, arrest, incarceration … or possibly worse.
Thank God, we have the Constitution!
I say that from my personal experience, because even here in America, I was subject to search and seizure without reasonable probable cause.
Even here in America, I was subject to censure without a conviction or criminal record.
Even here in America, I was incarcerated and taken away from my family after being denied a fair trial and an appeal bond.
But, because here in America we have a Constitution, I had a right to appeal. It is that Constitutional right that reversed the wrongful conviction and restored my freedom. And, so, we must recognize that even here in America, injustice can occur, because the system is imperfect.
As we move to becoming the more perfect union which we espouse, we must hold true to the principles embedded in the Constitution which are designed to ultimately protect us and ensure our freedom.
We thank you for your time and consideration.