ArchCity Defenders, a non-profit civil rights law firm in St. Louis, Missouri, brought a class action lawsuit Monday for violation of the Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection and due process, alleging that current policies and practices in St. Louis jail individuals based on poverty.
The suit was brought on behalf of David Dixon, Jeffrey Rozelle, Aaron Thurman Richard Robards, and others like them currently being held by the city because they cannot afford bail. The complaint states in part:
Every day in the City of St. Louis, presumptively innocent individuals remain in jail simply because they are too poor to pay for their freedom. Hundreds of people—the vast majority of whom are poor and Black—are condemned to remain confined in jail for weeks, months, or even years. They are locked in jail until they either have their day in court or, more likely, accept a plea that allows them to escape custody and return to their lives. This system inflicts devastating harm on people solely because of their poverty and violates the most fundamental of American axioms, that all people are equal under the law.
The complaint goes on to argue that the indigent are not granted an opportunity to argue for their release until they get a lawyer, and the wait for a public defender to be assigned could be four to five weeks. The St. Louis Sheriff also allegedly tells individuals that they are barred from speaking to the judge on their first appearance about the conditions of their release.
According to Blake Strode, executive director of ArchCity Defenders, a presumed innocent person is caged in the Workhouse on average 291 days because they simply cannot afford bail.