Washington, DC (February 13, 2015) – A short time ago today, the Department of Justice filed a landmark Statement of Interest on behalf of the United States in Varden v. City of Clanton pending in the U.S. District Court in the Middle District of Alabama. In that filing, DOJ is clear – “Incarcerating individuals solely because of their inability to pay for their release, whether through the payment of fines, fees, or a cash bond, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment….It is the position of the United States that, as courts have long recognized, any bail or bond scheme that mandates payment of pre-fixed amounts for different offenses in order to gain pre-trial release, without any regard for indigence, not only violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, but also constitutes bad public policy.” The Statement of Interest also makes clear that “[b]y using a predetermined schedule for bail amounts based solely on the charges a defendant faces, these schemes do not properly account for other important factors, such as the defendant’s potential dangerousness or risk of flight.”
NACDL President Theodore Simon said: “This is a landmark filing. It is time to end the era of using bail as ransom. The practices which the Department of Justice condemns in its statement of interest clearly and disproportionately penalize the poor and promote racial and ethnic disparity.
“Pretrial justice reform has been a centerpiece of Attorney General Eric Holder’s tenure, as has indigent defense reform. And NACDL has long supported and pursued these important criminal justice reforms. It is fitting that this action comes as the Attorney General completes his tenure. His leadership on issues related to pretrial justice and indigent defense reform will prove to be a lasting legacy.”