The Department of Justice just made history before a federal appeals court by determining that it's unconstitutional to hold defendants who can't afford bail in jail. The Obama Administration has long worked to encourage states to move away from the practices of fixed cash bail amounts and jailing those who can't pay. "Fixed bail schedules that allow for the pretrial release of only those who can play without accounting for the ability to pay,unlawfully discriminate based on indigence," the government said. The case that brought this to light is that of Maurice Walker of Calhoun, Georgia. He was arrested for public intoxication and was told that he could not get out of jail unless he paid the fixed bail amount of $160. In January of 2016, a federal judge ruled that the city let those arrested on misdemeanor offenses be released on their own recognizance and to make other changes in its post-arrest procedures. But the city of Calhoun has argued that these fixed amounts are directly connected to the seriousness of the crime and are allowed under state law. Unsurprisingly, other groups such as the Georgia Sheriff's Association support the notion proposed by the city. In a friend of court brief (amicus curiae), the DOJ, citing the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection, stated: "Bail practices that incarcerate indigent individuals before trial solely because of their inability to pay for their release violate the Fourteenth Amendment." Despite the long history of systemic racism and racial profiling in cities around our country, the Department of Justice has taken a stance against debtors' prisons and has set a new precedent for protecting the rights and liberties of citizens. Let's just hope that state and local municipalities adhere to it.
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