BRUNSWICK, GA -- The ACLU of Georgia has filed a federal class-action lawsuit against Glynn County, Georgia, for violating the constitutional rights of persons arrested for misdemeanors. The suit names the county itself, along with the county's sheriff, E. Neal Jump, the county's chief magistrate judge, Alex Atwood, and court-appointed public defender, Stephen E. Tillman.
The lawsuit seeks an immediate change to the county's cash bail system which it says discriminates against persons who are "financially strapped" and cannot afford to pay bail amounts determined by the county's bail schedule. Anyone who cannot afford those amounts are immediately detained indefinitely, while those who can are released until trial. According to the lawsuit, this means low-income individuals are denied effective and meaningful representation at bail hearings where an attorney would be able to argue for their release.
“People who cannot afford to pay bail or hire a private attorney face an impossible choice — plead guilty or face loss of their families, jobs, and homes as they wait for their cases to move through the system,” said Andrea Woods, Equal Justice Works Fellowship attorney with the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project. “A person’s wealth should never decide their freedom, but that’s exactly what’s happening in Georgia and across the country. In Glynn County, the contract public defender and prosecutors alike refuse to grant people the presumption of innocence and ignore the government’s due process obligation to ensure that release upon arrest is the norm.”
According to the lawsuit, the Glynn County system of money bail violates the US Constitution because it keeps people in jail if they cannot afford to pay bail while allowing those who can to go home. The suit was filed on behalf of two plaintiffs representing a class in the US District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, accusing county officials of operating a two-tiered justice system based on wealth, in violation of the Right-to-Counsel and Due Process clauses of the 6th and 14th Amendments and the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution.
The lawsuit includes a complaint, a motion for class certification and a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.
11Alive News has reached out to officials in Glynn County, but they have yet to respond to our request for comment.