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Federal Judge Rules Cullman County, Alabama, Money Bond System Unconstitutional

by Derek Gilna

U.S. District Court Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala issued a preliminary injunction on September 13, 2018, which effectively ends the money bond system of Cullman County, Alabama, finding that it violates the Eighth Amendment, which states: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” Cullman County, located in the middle of the state, was alleged to have run a bonding “scheme” for criminal defendants.

Bradley Hester and other plaintiffs had alleged that the county required a standard property bond of $1 million for defendants, especially those accused of drug crimes.

Judge Haikala had entered an order earlier in the month, which had settled the issue of liability, and invited the county to help craft a replacement for the previous money bill system.

The county declined to offer any input into the crafting of the final language of the preliminary injunction, so the judge imposed her own solution to what she described as constitutional deficiencies. “Subject to the exceptions identified below,” the court said, “and until Cullman County proposes alternative, constitutionally-sound procedures — following arrests, the Sheriff of Cullman County must release all bail-eligible defendants on unsecured appearance bonds using Cullman County’s current bail schedule.”

The court added, “The Sheriff does not have to immediately release defendants in the following categories who, by law, are not eligible to secure their immediate release by posting bail: defendants arrested for failure to appear or on charges that, by statute, require detention for a period of time; defendants who are intoxicated; defendants who are in need of medical attention; or defendants who have holds on their detention from other jurisdictions.”

Before the first court appearance, it continued, “the Sheriff must notify a defendant in writing and verbally that he or she is entitled to release on an unsecured appearance bond unless a judge determines, based on clear and convincing evidence, that the defendant poses a significant risk of flight or danger to the community,” and “the Sheriff must provide the defendant with a questionnaire eliciting information relevant to flight risk and danger to the community.”

In addition, a procedure was enacted to determine whether “the defendant is entitled to court appointed counsel,” and to assist the defendant in completing the questionnaire or affidavit if needed.

After the entry of the preliminary injunction, the Cullman County sheriff indicated that it had made the requested changes to the bail system that tracked the judge’s order. See: Schultz v. Alabama, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 153431 (N.D. Ala. 2018). 

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Related legal case

Schultz v. Alabama



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