Bail is back in Cullman County

Sheriff Matt Gentry holds press conference

Cullman County Sheriff Matt Gentry held a press conference on Wednesday, Nov. 30, to discuss the county’s bond issue. (Lauren Estes for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Cullman County Sheriff Matt Gentry at a Wednesday press conference announced that the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Judicial Circuit “made a ruling in our favor that basically we were doing everything right under a 2018 order that was in place by a presiding judge that was in regards to bail.” Gentry continued, “As of this morning, we have bail again in Cullman County.” 

The 2017 civil lawsuit was filed by two local attorneys, Tommy Drake and Melvin Hastings, on behalf of their respective clients. They alleged Cullman County was impeding on their clients’ rights under the 14th Amendment, which states, in part, that “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” 

The lawsuit claimed that the Cullman County bail system discriminated against the indigent, making it difficult to impossible for those defendants to get out of jail while awaiting trial and movement within the court system. The 11th Circuit’s split opinion lifting the previous court’s preliminary injunction went into effect Wednesday morning and reinstated the 2018 bond schedule.

“In 2017, myself and two judicial defendants got sued by two local attorneys (sic) with regards to bail saying that bail was unconstitutional,” explained Gentry. “So we fought it in the state court. We won. Then we went to federal court and in 2018 the Southern Poverty Law Center jumped on board with this lawsuit, and in 2018 I had an injunction placed on me by the (United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama), and the injunction stated that anyone arrested in Cullman County was arrested with bail which means you come in and you sign your own bond and leave. So for the last five years we have fought tooth and nail over this lawsuit.” 

Gentry cited 76 failure to appear warrants that were issued yesterday and a criminal who committed five separate felony burglaries in one week as prime examples of how the injunction impacted the community. Without accountability provided with a bail system, he said, criminals “feel we have a system that allows them to run amok. That’s not the truth anymore.” 

He continued, “When you bring accountability to those that will do harm, it makes the community safer. What I mean by that is if you have somebody committing five felonies in a week, kicking doors in and breaking into your house, stealing the things that you work hard for, they don’t need to be out here on the streets doing those things. This brings accountability to keep them in a place where they need to be to keep them from committing more crimes.” 

Gentry thanked the county’s attorney in Montgomery for her work on the lawsuit over the past five years and Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall. 

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