It's unconstitutional to keep poor defendants in jail before their trial simply because they can't afford to pay bail. That's according to an amicus brief filed in federal court by the Justice Department on Friday, Reuters reports. According to NBC News, the Justice Department found that the practice violates the 14th Amendment and that bail amounts that don't take poverty into account "unlawfully discriminate based on indigence." It says courts must find a better way to make sure impoverished defendants show up to court than keeping them in jail.
The brief was filed in the case of Maurice Walker. Walker, who is poor and has mental health issues, was arrested for being a pedestrian under the influence in Calhoun, Georgia, the Huffington Post reports. Court is only held once per week in Calhoun, and Walker was kept in jail for six days because he couldn't afford to pay the $160 bail for his freedom. The city argued that it's perfectly legal to set bail amounts based on the seriousness of crimes without any consideration for a defendant's ability to pay it. A federal court ruled against Calhoun, but the city appealed. (Read more bail stories.)