McGuire Fights to Reform the City of Dothan’s Bail Bond Policy
Faulkner University’s Jones School of Law alumnus, Mitch McGuire (JSL ‘11), is fighting to reform the City of Dothan’s bail bond policy that he believes conditions a person’s release on their economic status. The current policy, which sets bond amounts of $300-$500 for minor misdemeanor offenses, allows the immediate release of those who can afford to pay the bond. Because the policy does not allow for the consideration of individual circumstances, poor citizens who cannot afford to pay the bond spend up to seven days in jail without a hearing.
McGuire, along with attorney Alec Karakatsanis – founder of Equal Justice Under Law in Washington D.C. – filed a class action suit against the City of Dothan on behalf of his client, Anthony Cooper. Cooper, age 56, was arrested for public intoxication and taken to the Dothan City jail. He was informed that he would not be released unless he paid the standard $300 bond amount for the public intoxication charge. Cooper, who is indigent, illiterate, and suffers from mental health problems, survives solely on Social Security benefits. Therefore, he could not afford to purchase his release from jail. As a result of his inability to pay, he was told that he would not appear in court until the City’s weekly court session, which was six days after his arrest.
“The City of Dothan’s bond policy pre-sets a generic bail schedule for minor misdemeanor offenses,” said McGuire. “Arrestees who are too poor to pay the pre-set amount to purchase their release are jailed for up to seven days for something as minor as a traffic offense. Thus, this illegal post-arrest detention scheme operates to release some arrestees but to detain others who have been arrested for the same crime solely because they are very poor.”
According to McGuire, Dothan – unlike other cities – does not allow post-arrest release on recognizance or with an unsecured bond (in which a person would be released by promising to pay the scheduled amount if the person later does not appear). Instead, City officials require that payment be made up front. While a magistrate usually visits arrestees who are unable to pay within 72 hours, they do not conduct an indigency hearing and are not permitted to reduce or waive monetary bail, release on recognizance, or to allow that bail to be unsecured rather than secured.
In addition to filing suit, McGuire also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order which would prevent the City from continuing to hold Cooper until the court’s weekly session. The court granted that motion in part, and ordered the City to release Cooper immediately either on his own recognizance or subject to an unsecured bond or other reasonable and lawful non-financial conditions.
“The judge found that there was no reason for detaining my client until the Thursday court docket,” said McGuire. “We are pleased that the court granted our motion.”
Three days after suit was filed, the City of Dothan implemented several changes to its policy. Subsequently, the parties conferred and agreed to a set of procedures that satisfied the concerns raised in Cooper’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction. As the parties continue to negotiate settlement, the City is ordered to comply with the procedures set forth in the parties’ agreement.