The United States Bail Bonds System Is Under Attack
By Matthew Martz
A federal class-action lawsuit spearheaded by a Washington, D.C. based non-profit, is trying to attack our criminal justice system and with it, the very constitution of the United States.
The lawsuit, filed on Oct. 28, by a small group of attorneys calling themselves “Equal Justice Under the Law,” is aimed at toppling the “money bail” system, by convincing the US District Court to rule that surety bail is unconstitutional.
And if the group is successful, criminal defendants statewide may no longer have any options to be released from jail pending their trial.
The suit, initially filed on behalf of 19-year-old Riana Buffin and 29-year-old Crystal Patterson, who were detained in the San Francisco County Jail back in October because they could not afford bail, demands that the city and the state, amend the current bail system, which the EJUL claims unconstitutional, because it penalizes the poor with un-payable amounts for small offenses, while allowing the wealthy to purchase their freedom.
Currently, California State law requires cities and counties to use a generic “pre-determined” bail schedule, which the EJUL asserts; forces a person into coercive choices, which includes going into mounds of debt to post bail, or pleading guilty to a crime they may have not committed, or maybe just sitting it out in jail until their trial.
And while organizations like EJUL want people to believe that the lawsuit will stop profit bond making companies from rejecting defendants like Patterson and Buffin based on their financial means, the president of the California Bail Agents Association called the lawsuit “misleading,” and announced that her organization was prepared to “defend everyone’s constitutional right to bail.”
This includes, if necessary, taking legal action “to combat the attacks against bail agents and the public we serve,” she said.
Currently, the bail market effectively does what is fundamentally the public’s responsibility — to ensure an accused person’s due process rights, while protecting the public’s safety. However, by removing the private business of providing bail bonds, the price of freedom is in peril, and will ultimately be controlled by the government.
Meanwhile, in San Francisco, prosecutors have backed down, discharging the cases against both Buffin and Patterson, which in turn seriously raises questions about public safety.
In the end, if EJUL is effective in getting the court to deem surety bail unconstitutional, nobody is going to be held accountable for anything anymore. And when individuals facing criminal charges don’t show up to court — who’s going to go look for them? Frankly, there simply is not enough law enforcement to patrol our communities and continue to re-arrest defendants when they fail to appear.
So while EJUL continues to debate the constitutionality of “money based” bail systems provided by honest bail companies, the reality is, that surety bail actually helps low income defendants in custody. It allows bond agents to take a down payment, secure the bond with collateral and allow for a set payment schedule.
Without surety bail, a defendant would have to come up with the full amount of bail, payable to the jail in order to be released.
The good news though, at least for now, whether it’s an accident or false arrest, bondsmen are still faithfully on watch, making sure that you or a loved never have to wait for trial from the inside of a jail cell.