Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Federal lawsuit challenges new Georgia cash bail law

By Stanley Dunlop 

A federal lawsuit seeks to block a new Georgia law that it claims would effectively eliminate charitable bail funds by imposing unfair and severe restrictions.

The lawsuit filed last week by the American Civil Liberties Union and Georgetown University Law Center challenges a new law created by Senate Bill 63, which requires charitable organizations that offer free bail assistance to follow the same rules as private bail bond companies. That means required background checks, payments, licenses and cash escrow accounts.

The plaintiffs are asking a judge to issue a temporary restraining order against the sections of the law that are set to go into effect on July 1. The plaintiffs are seeking a preliminary injunction on provisions that would limit a single entity from making more than three cash bail donations within a year unless it follows new licensing rules and other requirements.

The lawsuit was filed Friday on behalf of Atlanta-based nonprofit Barred Business Foundation and two Athens residents who run a charitable bail fund. 

Opponents have called the bill another example of Georgia’s past criminal justice reform efforts now severely undermined by new efforts to penalize people who cannot afford to post bond to stay out of jail.

“SB 63 is cruel and costly, forcing people to languish in jail because they can’t pay for their release, and prohibiting others from being able to help them become free. With this law, the State of Georgia makes it illegal for people to exercise their First Amendment rights to help those who are detained solely because they are poor,” said Cory Isaacson, legal director with the ACLU of Georgia. “It is mean and it is unconstitutional, and our hope is that the courts will step in to stop the State from doing more harm.”

The new cash bail law would also expose individuals to criminal charges for violations. The bill targets churches that take up collections to bail out people on special occasions and nonprofits like the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, whose organizers were arrested last summer after using donations to bail out “Stop Cop City” protesters who are fighting the planned Atlanta Public Safety Training Center. 

The lawsuit was filed against Gov. Brian Kemp Kemp and Attorney General Chris Carr as well as the solicitors general of Fulton County and Athens-Clarke County.

During this year’s legislative session, the measure was championed by Republican lawmakers as a way to further protect crime victims by prohibiting judges from sparing people jail time when they promise to return to court. The measure added a laundry list of misdemeanors crimes such as criminal trespassing that would require someone to post bail to get out of jail. 

This article originally appeared in the Georgia Recorder on June 24th, 2024

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