ACLU-TN and Civil Rights Corps File Friend of the Court Brief Supporting Bail Reform

Affiliate: ACLU of Tennessee
June 5, 2017 4:15 pm

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NASHVILLE — Today, Civil Rights Corps and the ACLU of Tennessee filed a motion for leave to file a friend-of-the-court brief before the Supreme Court of Tennessee in the case of Delchon Weatherspoon, who is currently confined in a Shelby County jail cell. Mr. Weatherspoon is sitting in jail not because he has been found dangerous or at risk of fleeing before his trial. He is sitting in jail because he cannot pay the amount of money demanded for his release. And the lower courts have kept him detained even though no judge has conducted any of the procedures required for a constitutionally valid order of pretrial detention in his case.

“Delchon Weatherspoon is in jail tonight only because he is poor,” said Charlie Gerstein, an attorney at Civil Rights Corps. “We hope our brief will help the Tennessee Supreme Court understand that jailing people like Mr. Weatherspoon solely because of how much money they have is unconstitutional, and that the Court’s ruling will spur Tennessee to develop a sensible pretrial system based on evidence, not money.”

“Today in our state, we have a two tiered justice system where poor people are punished more harshly than people with money,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN Executive Director. “We filed for leave to file the friend-of-the-court brief to illustrate the long-standing injustices faced by thousands of Tennesseans, like Mr. Weatherspoon, and disproportionately, by people of color, who are often held in jail for months, and even years, not because they are dangerous or likely to flee but because they can’t afford bail.”

On any given night in the United States, about 450,000 people who are legally presumed innocent are sitting in jail only because they cannot afford to pay a monetary bail amount. This is the largest pretrial detainee population in the recorded history of the world. All of them — no matter what risk some of them are believed to pose — would be released immediately if they had enough money. They sit in jail only because they do not. This system imperils public safety by basing release decisions on money instead of legitimate considerations, and it needlessly jails the poor in violation of the United States Constitution.

The friend of the court brief can be found here:….pdf

The motion for leave can be found here:….pdf

Civil Rights Corps, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., engages in systemic, innovative civil rights litigation aimed at challenging exactly the type of fundamental injustice that is reflected in Mr. Weatherspoon’s case. Civil Rights Corps is working to resensitize our culture to the inhumanity that has become normalized in the American criminal legal system. The organization is represented in this matter, pro bono, by the Memphis office of the law firm Baker Donelson.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee is a private non-profit non-partisan membership organization dedicated to translating the guarantees of the Bill of Rights into reality for all Tennesseans through advocacy, community education, legislative lobbying, and litigation. ACLU-TN is freedom’s watchdog, challenging government abuse of rights and fighting for fairness in our laws and their enforcement.

To learn more about Civil Rights Corps, please visit You can also follow us on Twitter: @CivRightsCorps. To learn more about the ACLU of TN, please visit The legal briefing in this case can be found on either website noted above.

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