ACLU Lawsuit Against Two Florida Counties Not Going As Planned

January 28, 2022 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements

Both Sarasota and Manatee County are facing backlash from the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida regarding the process of the cash bail system. This backlash, however, does not come without a fight. After the ACLU filed multiple lawsuits in defense of Florida defendants, the Second District Court of Appeals denied all of the cases.

This particular case raises the question of what constitutes acceptable bail for defendants? What is the current process and how could it be amended, if at all? Although the ACLU believes they are doing the right thing, are they attempting to fix something that is not broken? We break down the case to take a deeper look at the details.

What Happened?

The American Civil Liberties Union, also known as the ACLU, has a Florida section that has recently filed multiple lawsuits for Manatee and Sarasota county. In total, eleven lawsuits have been filed to challenge the current cash bail system put in place by the two counties.

Posting a cash bail is when a person is able to pay a specific fee to be released from jail until the time of their court date. Paying bail is meant to ensure that the defendant returns to the court room, and if they do not they would then forfeit the money.

The ACLU claims that there were eleven people in the two counties who were being held in jail due to cash bail amounts that they could not afford. Since they did not have the financial means to provide the bail money, those individuals must sit in jail awaiting their trials. In the past, the ACLU worked to help defendants pay off their bail so they are not stuck behind bars during the criminal process. In this instance, however, the outcome appears different.

The ACLU released a 51-page petition which cited all of the violations they believed Manatee and Sarasota County committed. Within the petition, the ACLU claimed that the eleven defendants were having their Fourteenth Amendment right of the U.S. Constitution violated. Under the Fourteenth Amendment Right, no state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States. In addition, a person should not be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. This was due to the fact that the courts failed to give the defendants an alternative to a cash bond, and that holding them in pre-trial detention was a direct violation of their rights.

During the course of December and January, the appellate court denied all of the petitions created and filed by the ACLU and the 12th Judicial Circuit Public Defender’s Office. A statement from the sheriff’s office argues, “[s]heriffs have no authority over the bail amounts or procedures. Bail amount is determined by a judge.”

Now the ACLU of Florida is considering whether or not to pursue the cases further in federal court.

Public Responses

There has been much back and forth between the members of the ACLU and the Attorney General’s Office on the proposed lawsuits. Before the ruling was even made, it was asked that the appellate court get the opinion of the Attorney General’s Office for each of the cases. This is a common practice in these types of cases.

Assistant Attorney General Jonathan S. Tannen argued in a written response that just because a defendant is unable to afford the sentenced bail, it does not mean the bail itself was unreasonable or excessive. In a response, Tannen states, “[i]n addition to a defendant’s financial resources, a trial court must consider a host of other factors in determining whether to release the defendant on bail or other conditions, and if so, what bail or other conditions are appropriate.”

Tannen cited to Florida Statute Section 903.046 in his response, which covers bail determinations. The statute states that the purpose of a bail determination in criminal proceedings is to ensure the appearance of the criminal defendant at subsequent proceedings and to protect the community against unreasonable danger from the criminal defendant. The statute also governs the determination of whether to release a defendant on bail or in another manner, and the conditions to be considered by the court, like:

  • The nature and circumstances of the offense charged
  • The weight of the evidence against the defendant
  • The defendant’s family ties, length of residence in the community, employment history, financial resources, and mental condition.

Benjamin Stevenson, one of the ACLU members as an acting staff attorney, provided the Bradenton Herald with the following statement: “I think we are at the end of the road in the state courts.” In addition, the ACLU argues that even if there was a sufficient amount for bail offered by the court to make sure the community stays safe and the defendant attends their court date, it does not necessarily mean that the bail was granted.  

There is belief that the trial court has failed in applying the accurate constitutional standard for pretrial liberty. The ACLU believes that the case needs to be remanded to the trial court in order to make findings using the proper legal standards. The court dismissed the ACLU’s initial class action lawsuit that was filed back in November. It was filed on behalf of the eleven defendants, and the court dismissed it without prejudice.

With the dismissal of these lawsuits, it appears the courts will continue to follow the regulations of the Florida Statute, and bail will still continuously be decided by judges for each defendant’s case. As for the ACLU of Florida, it will be interesting to see how they decide to proceed from here.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

If you or a loved one have been charged with a crime, it is imperative that you seek out legal help. Your first step should be contacting a qualified defense attorney in your area. Being accused of a crime is a scary and stressful situation, but finding a skilled criminal defense attorney to defend your case can make the difference between facing serious consequences and walking away free. Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law Firm have decades of experience defending Floridians against state criminal charges. They understand what it takes to defend a case and will put the hard work in to make sure your case gets the time and attention it deserves. Don’t let one mistake impact the rest of your life. Contact (850) 681-7777 today and receive a free consultation regarding your case.

Written by Karissa Key

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