Tens of thousands of people in Michigan are locked up in jail, before being tried or convicted of any crime, because of cash bail. Throughout the state, it is common for judges to require people who have been arrested to post cash for their release —in other words, to buy their freedom—or else remain incarcerated while they await trial, even for very minor charges. In April 2019 the ACLU filed a federal class action lawsuit against judges of the 36th District Court in Detroit, arguing that this practice is unconstitutional because it creates a two-tiered legal system in which the freedom of a person who is presumed innocent depends entirely on their ability to afford bail, a clear violation of due process and equal protection. Locking people up while they await trial inflicts devastating harm on the lives of people who are arrested and their families, including job loss, child custody issues, eviction, and missed medical or educational commitments. This practice also coerces many defendants accused of lesser crimes to plead guilty just to get out of jail. And the harm caused by using cash bail falls disproportionately on people of color, who already bear the brunt of overpolicing and racism in the criminal legal system. The judges filed a motion to dismiss in June 2019, and in August 2019 briefing was put on hold to allow the parties to engage in settlement talks that will hopefully result in reform without the need for further litigation. (Ross v. Blount; ACLU of Michigan Attorneys Phil Mayor, Dan Korobkin, and Michael J. Steinberg; National ACLU Attorneys Brandon Buskey and Twyla Carter; and Aaron Lewis, James Garland, Mitch Kamin, Amia Trigg, Wesley Wintermyer, Marta Cook, Julia Brower, and Laura Beth Cohen at Covington & Burling.)
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