The US Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a case from Georgia over whether holding an accused man in prison because he could not afford bail was a violation of his equal protections rights.
Maurice Walker was arrested in Calhoun, Georgia, and accused of being a pedestrian under the influence of alcohol in September of 2015. At the time, Calhoun required a statutorily predetermined $160 cash bail payment for the charge, which Walker could not afford to pay. As a result, Walker was held in jail for six days before his lawyer posted bail on his behalf. He sued the city alleging that they had violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection by treating the poor differently than those wealthy enough to post bail. Soon after his suit was filed, the city updated its bail policies to require a hearing within 48 hours to determine if the bail was excessive due to the accused person’s financial situation, but still permitted those who could afford to post bail immediate release. Walker maintained that this disparate treatment was unconstitutional.
The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit decided against Walker, stating that although his detainment may have been longer than the period permitted in the revised bail rules, the city’s updated policy was “consistent with the Supreme Court’s past decisions” that have held that 48 hours is an acceptable time for accused persons to be held. In addition, the court’s opinion stated that every government policy has a disproportionate impact on people of different financial levels, such as a richer person being able to afford to go to a more expensive university than a poor one, and to rule in Walker’s favor would result in a slew of lawsuits against nearly every government policy.
The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear Walker’s case does nothing to resolve the split in opinions over the constitutional limits of cash bail systems based on the wealth of the accused person. In March a federal judge in California ruled the state’s cash bail system violates the rights of the poor, while on Monday the state of New York passed an omnibus budget bill that includes eliminating cash bail for most nonviolent misdemeanors and felonies.