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United States v. Myles

Location: West Virginia
Status: Ongoing
Last Update: August 23, 2023

What's at Stake

This case challenges a presumption of pretrial detention that applies to nearly all people charged with federal drug offenses.

The federal Bail Reform Act is often cited as the gold standard for pretrial release: the law purports to eliminate detention based on unaffordable cash bail, and permits detention only if a judge explicitly orders it under procedures far more rigorous than most state systems. Yet since the law’s passage, and despite its apparently strong protections, the pretrial detention rate in the federal system has steadily risen. The federal system still jails an alarmingly high 70% of people pretrial, and detains people of color in disproportionately high numbers.

This case challenges a key driver of the federal system’s high pretrial detention numbers and racial disparities: a presumption of detention that applies to nearly all people charged with federal drug offenses. Courts read this presumption to subvert what otherwise should be a robust hearing where the judge makes decisions based on each individual person’s characteristics. Instead, courts assign weight to a presumption written into the law without adequate justification. The flimsy congressional record supporting this presumption consisted exclusively of evidence concerning the flight risk of high-level international drug traffickers in 1980s Miami. In practice, the presumption results in pretrial detention for broad categories of people who the government itself predicts pose little risk of flight or danger.

This case argues that when people produce evidence showing that release is appropriate for them as individuals, they “rebut” the presumption and it disappears. Courts should make decisions based on evidence about people as individuals, not a poorly supported blanket presumption that applies across the board.

Mr. Myles is represented by ACLU attorneys Jennesa Calvo-Friedman, Trisha Trigilio, and Andrea Woods, in partnership with Judith Miller and Alison Siegler of the University of Chicago Law School’s Federal Criminal Justice Clinic and L. Richard Walker, Sean B. Shriver, and Elizabeth Gross of the Federal Public Defenders for the Northern District of West Virginia. For more information on why federal pretrial detention rates are astronomically high, see Freedom Denied, a national investigation of federal pretrial detention by Professor Siegler and the Federal Criminal Justice Clinic.

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