Lawsuit Challenges Utah’s Money Bail System

The lawsuit found that money-poor Utah residents languished in jail while the comparatively wealthy were set free.

A Utah attorney has filed a lawsuit on behalf of three residents who were arrested for minor offenses but were unable to raise the cash needed to get out of jail.

According to The Salt Lake Tribune, the proposed class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of Dawn Hepikiya Medina, Justin Horton and Madelaine Thompson. They were arrested for shoplifting, auto parts theft and domestic violence. Their bail amounts range from $ 3,000 for Thompson to $ 7,000 for Hepikiya Medina.

None of the three can pay their bail.

Her attorney is now calling on a federal judge to hold the continued use of a cash-based bail bond system in Utah unconstitutional.

Karra Porter, an attorney for the three detainees, says Utah should expect more lawsuits until the state reforms its system.

“These customers understand that they don’t make any money with it,” Porter said on Monday. “They are trying to do better – not just for themselves – but also for others.”

The Salt Lake Tribune notes that Porter’s challenge to Utah’s bail system is the first to take the form of a lawsuit, but the state has long been criticized for its practices.

Image via PxHere / Inside Higher Ed. Listed in the public domain on PxHere.

Earlier this year, Utah County’s public defender Ben Aldana told that cash deposits can ruin customers’ lives.

Aldana told that journalists took the example of a hypothetical client – John Doe – who was arrested for domestic violence. Within a day, Doe is given a bail hearing.

“The bail would normally have been between $ 5,000 and $ 10,000,” Aldana said. “Under my client’s circumstances, you are in jail with no money.”

After a week in jail, Doe, unable to show up for work, lost his job despite having children to look after.

While Doe may not even be guilty, he may accept a plea deal just to get out of jail and provide for his family.

According to Porter, the cash-based bail system in Utah means that people who are poor are often incarcerated longer than those who have committed serious crimes.

“Hundreds of people are locked up in county jails every day in Utah just because they can’t afford to buy their freedom,” she said.

Porter told The Salt Lake Tribune that her lawsuit is intended to address a common scenario in Utah: when a judge determines that a suspect is at low enough risk to be released from prison, regardless of the prisoner’s bail money solvency puts.

“This allows a medium-sized company to simply buy their way out of prison,” she wrote in the lawsuit. “[Whereas] a poorer person charged with the same offense will perish in prison. “

While the lawsuit named the judges responsible for her clients’ bail payments as defendants – Judges Ann Marie Mciff Allen and Jeremiah Humes – Porter said she did not specifically target these two judges.

“I wish our customers could be here to speak to you today,” Porter said at a press conference Monday. “But they cannot because they are in prison, because they are poor. And so we hope to have the opportunity to work with the judges, with the state, so that we don’t have to keep filing complaints after complaints. But we are ready for that. “


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