Court Reforms in Birmingham Will Reduce Jail Time for Poor Defendants, Require Counsel at Bail Hearings
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The Circuit Court, 10th Judicial Circuit of Alabama, released an historic administrative order that will drastically change the courts’ treatment of defendants who can’t afford bail or an attorney. As of June 6, defendants who are unable to pay the bail amounts assigned to their offenses will receive a bail hearing within 48 to 72 hours of their arrest, in contrast to the weeks and sometimes months that defendants now spend in jail awaiting a bail hearing. The judges’ order also will ensure that indigent defendants have legal representation at bail hearings, a first in Alabama.
“For decades, Birmingham’s courts have condemned people to extra jail time just because they’re poor,” said Brandon Buskey, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project. “Defendants charged with the same exact crime can either buy their freedom immediately or sit in jail for weeks on end if they don’t have enough money. The judges’ reforms will bring a welcome end to this injustice.”
The judges’ order resulted from negotiations with the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Alabama, which had threatened to sue over the court’s unconstitutional bail practices.
“In Birmingham’s courts, defendants must go through bail hearings without legal representation, and as a result, they don’t get the reductions that they deserve,” said Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama. “This extra punishment for the poor will end when the 10th Circuit’s reforms go into effect.
“We urge Alabama’s other courts to make the same necessary changes in their bail systems so that they’re no longer rigged against the poor.”
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