Earlier this year, California became the first state to abolish bail for suspects awaiting trial. In most other states, including Louisiana, a person can be held in jail and forced to pay in order to be released, even if that person is not convicted of a crime.
During 2015, the New Orleans prison system housed 548 people daily because they could not afford bail of $100,000 or less. In Orleans Parish Criminal District Court in 2015, 87 percent of defendants had to post bail for release, 97 percent used a bail bondsman, and in return, bail bondsmen earned $4.7 million in payments.
The cash bail system is unconstitutional because it provides unequal justice based on wealth instead of guilt. It forces citizens to pay for their freedom before they ever see a courtroom. Assumption of innocence and being proved guilty is a bedrock of the democratic system.
Freedom is an inalienable right guaranteed to every American under the Constitution. No one should have to pay money for their freedom. However, I am not suggesting to simply let murder suspects run free during an investigation.
People facing violent felonies like murder or armed robbery should be required to remain in pretrial detention. But people booked for non-violent crimes like drug possession or tax evasion should not be required to pay for their freedom before trial.
Holding people in jail before a trial is a big reason why Louisiana has many problems with its criminal justice system. If someone is innocent, but they cannot afford bail or a lawyer, they can be held in custody, which is a violation of due process and equal protection rights, so the current system allows for the imprisonment of innocent people.
The First and Fourteenth Amendments guarantee citizens the right to due process and equal protection under the law. The cash bail system is in clear violation of these constitutional rights. California took the correct action and abolished cash bail.
Whether or not someone should remain in pretrial detention should be based on how likely the person is to show up to court, seriousness of the crime and their chance of recidivism.
The current law says a judge must assign a monetary bail amount for every criminal charge faced by the person arrested. After that, a person must pay the full amount in cash or purchase a commercial bail bond for 12 percent of the bail amount in order to be eligible for release.
The only people who come out of this system happy are the bail bondsmen, the criminal district court, the sheriff's office, the district attorney’s office and the public defender’s office because they receive a share of the money paid by defendants. There are better methods to enforce the laws and criminal justice system.
Non-monetary conditions of release and other policies are much better alternatives than cash bail. If a person has an ankle bracelet rather than being stuck in a jail cell next to criminals, their chance of recidivism would decrease. There has been some progress made in the fight against monetary bail system.
This past summer, a federal judge in New Orleans ruled cash bail unconstitutional, an important step in fixing the problem. The faster people realize how backward the cash bail system is, the faster reform will start. If a state as big as California can eliminate cash bail, then so can Louisiana.
In the U.S., there are more people sitting in jail without a conviction than most other countries’ entire prison populations. The fact that our country incarcerates innocent people at a higher rate than most countries incarcerate guilty people is absurd and an embarrassment.
It is time for Louisiana and the rest of the country to rid ourselves of this unconstitutional system and start enacting useful and effective criminal justice laws based on equality and evidence instead of privilege and wealth.
Max Nedanovich is a 21-year-old mass communication junior from Mandeville, Louisiana.