UPDATE: Federal judge rules Cullman County bail system is unconstitutional


BIRMINGHAM – A federal judge has ordered the Cullman County sheriff and court officials to modify Cullman County’s bond procedures, in a class action case involving arrestees who claim indigent status and are unable to post assigned bonds. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala made good on the promise she made in her memorandum opinion and order last week, officially entering an injunction ordering Sheriff Matt Gentry and the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) to “release all bail-eligible defendants on unsecured appearance bonds using Cullman County’s current bail schedule.”

Under an unsecured appearance bond, arrested suspects sign a written promise to appear in court, in which they agree to pay a certain amount of money equal to previously assigned cash or property bonds if they should fail to appear at the assigned time.

The judge’s order makes certain allowances, under which some arrestees may be detained for extended periods:

“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. In addition, the Sheriff shall not immediately release a defendant for whom an arresting officer has submitted a bail request form.”

The injunction also allows for extended detention of an arrestee if a judge determines that “the defendant poses a significant risk of flight or danger to the community.”

This preliminary injunction will be in effect until the class action case, filed by Bradley Dewayne Hester against Sheriff Matt Gentry, Cullman Circuit Clerk Lisa McSwain, Cullman County District Court Magistrates Amy Black and John White and Cullman County District Judges Kim Chaney and Rusty Turner concludes, at which time it could be overturned, modified or made permanent.

Hester was arrested on July 27, 2017 for misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia. He was assigned a $1,000 bond but claimed indigent status and inability to pay. Still in jail several days later, he filed the above-mentioned complaint that could allow him to join in an existing class action filed in March 2017 against Gentry, the State of Alabama and the 32nd Judicial Circuit  (See www.cullmantribune.com/articles/2017/06/29/drug-trafficking-defendants-sue-county-officials-sheriff-responds), with the support of a battery of attorneys:

  • Samuel Brooke and Micah West of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery
  • Alec Karakatsanis and Katherine Hubbard of the Civil Rights Corps in Washington, DC
  • Brandon Buskey and Andrea Woods of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Foundation Criminal Law Reform Project in New York
  • Randall C. Marshall and Brock Boone of the ACLU Foundation of Alabama, Inc. in Montgomery

The CCSO is not commenting at this time. Attempts to contact Cullman County court officials have been unsuccessful.

This is a developing story.

Judges Order Sept 13 2018 by TheCullmanTribune on Scribd

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