In 2017, Civil Rights Corps filed a landmark federal class action lawsuit challenging the unconstitutional money bail system in New Orleans, Louisiana. Each of our clients was confined in the notorious Orleans Parish Prison because he could not afford to pay a money bond after his arrest. In Louisiana, the judges who set money bonds, the prosecutors who ask for them, the sheriffs who enforce them, and the public defenders who represent the human beings who suffer from them each take a percentage cut of every money bond paid. Thousands of other people are currently going through what our named Plaintiffs went through.
In August 2018, we won summary judgment in this case. In a landmark opinion, the court essentially held that New Orleans' money-bail system violates equal protection and due process. The court also struck down Louisiana's statewide statutory scheme that gives judges an institutional financial conflict of interest when setting money bail.
For months following summary judgement, local courts blatantly violated the decree, routinely setting money bail amounts that people could not afford.
In June 2019 the federal court issued a historic injunction that requires the elected judge in charge of money bail to follow a specific protocol when making decisions about pretrial release and detention. If the judge does not follow the protocol, they can be held in contempt of the federal court.
In August 2019, the 5th circuit court of appeals ruled unanimously that the Louisiana bail system – where judges take a percentage cut of every monetary bond they set to fund their courts – is unconstitutional. We are working through all of the implications and enforcement options, but the ruling basically means that under current Louisiana law, judges are not permitted to set monetary bonds.
This case will go a long way towards ending wealth-based detention and the unconstitutional financial conflict of interest that pervades the Louisiana criminal system. Our partner in the case is the MacArthur Justice Center.