U.S. Supreme Court rejects challenge to Alabama County bail system

By John Kruzel

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to rule on whether requiring defendants to pay a set amount of cash bail to secure release from prison before trial violates the U.S. Constitution.

Judges rejected an appeal by Bradley Hester against a lower court ruling that upheld Cullman County, Alabama’s cash bail system. Hester had to stay in jail following a misdemeanor arrest because he couldn’t afford to post $1,000 bond.

Hester joined a lawsuit against Cullman County Sheriff Matthew Gentry and other officials in 2017 after he was arrested and detained for possession of drug paraphernalia. He argued that the imprisonment of the defendants because of their inability to post bail violated the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law and went against the presumption of innocence enjoyed by the defendants under of the American legal system.

A federal judge in Alabama in 2018 temporarily blocked bail practices in Cullman County, ruling that Hester was likely to prevail over his claim that the county’s “discriminatory bail practices deprive the indigent defendants of Cullman County equal protection of the law”. But a split panel of the 11th United States Circuit Court of Appeals in 2022 overturned that decision, prompting Hester to appeal to the Supreme Court.

A group of lawyers specializing in bail practices had urged judges to take up the case, arguing in an amicus curiae brief that US legal tradition protects the right to liberty before sentencing.

Proponents of bail reform say that in addition to the deprivation of a defendant’s liberty, inmates may also be exposed to violence and disease, suffer loss of employment and housing, and may be forced to plead guilty to secure their release.

(Reporting by John Kruzel; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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