Criminal Law

Walker v. City of Calhoun

In Walker v. City of Calhoun, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit considered whether the City’s use of a secured money bail system for misdemeanor offenders violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Constitution.

Case Summary

The City of Calhoun, Georgia has a policy and practice of using secured money bail to impose pretrial detention on misdemeanor defendants too poor to pay, requiring them to spend 48 hours behind bars unless they can pay – before trial and conviction – the fine that would be assessed based on a finding of guilt. In 2015, Maurice Walker, who was held in jail while waiting for trial because he was unable to pay the bail fee, sued the City in federal district court, claiming that its bail system violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights. The district court ruled in favor of Walker, and the City appealed to the Eleventh Circuit.

CAC filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Eleventh Circuit on behalf of Walker, arguing that the City’s system of secured money bail violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantees of due process and equal protection, which together ensure equal justice under the law to rich and poor alike. In our brief, we explain that the City’s policy denies the most basic form of liberty to those unable to pay, exerts coercive pressure on defendants charged with misdemeanors to plead guilty in order to be released, and makes it harder for others to prepare a defense. Using the bail system in this way perverts the historic use of bail as a mechanism for ensuring pretrial liberty for persons charged with a crime. We further argued that the City’s policy is completely unnecessary in light of the numerous alternative approaches that serve the government’s interests in a defendant’s appearance at trial and in community safety while still respecting the constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Eleventh Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, reversed the district court, concluding that under Supreme Court precedent, “indigency determinations for purposes of setting bail are presumptively constitutional if made within 48 hours of arrest.”  Judge Beverly Martin disagreed, noting in her dissent that “an incarcerated person suffers a complete deprivation of liberty . . . , whether their jail time lasts two days or two years.”

Case Timeline

  • November 20, 2017

    CAC files amicus brief

    11th Circuit Amicus Brief
  • May 15, 2018

    U.S. Court of Appeals hears oral argument

  • August 22, 2018

    The Eleventh Circuit issues its decision