Varden v. The City of Clanton
OPINION. Signed by Honorable Judge Myron H. Thompson on 9/14/2015. (wcl, )
IN THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA, NORTHERN DIVISION
PEGGY JONES, as
Administrator of the
Estate and Personal
Representative of Christy
THE CITY OF CLANTON,
CIVIL ACTION NO.
Plaintiff Peggy Jones brings this 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Varden, the original plaintiff in this case, who is now
Administrator Jones claims that, in violation
of the First, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, Varden
was jailed because she was too poor to pay a small amount
of bail money, which she was required to pay under the
Jurisdiction is proper under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 (federal
question) and 1343 (civil rights).
parties’ joint motion for entry of final judgment as to
all matters excluding attorney’s
Based on the
representations made on the record on July 1, 2015, and
after a review of the entire record, the motion will be
unconstitutionally jailed because she could not afford to
pay the amount of money set by the Clanton Municipal
Court’s generic bail schedule.
Although the facts remain
disputed, the court will briefly review them--as alleged
by Jones--to give background for the court’s decision to
approve the settlement.
Administrator Jones alleges that Varden was arrested
and jailed for four misdemeanor offenses: shoplifting,
resisting arrest, failure to obey a police officer, and
Varden’s arrest, the Clanton Municipal Court utilized a
schedule from which it did not deviate: $ 500 per charge
(and $ 1,000 per DUI charge).
Those able to pay the
amount of the bond always obtained immediate release.
Those unable to pay were required to wait in jail until
The bail schedule required payment upfront
and provided no option to secure release on recognizance
or by an unsecured bond (that is, a promise to pay the
amount only if one did not appear for the scheduled court
Administrator Jones alleges that under the terms of
immediately had she paid a bond of $ 500 per charge, or
$ 2,000 in total.
Varden was indigent, however, and too
1. Some people who cannot make this payment seek the
assistance of third-party commercial bail agents, who
typically charge an upfront fee of 10 %. Thus, a bonding
agent would charge $ 50 for each $ 500 cash bond.
However, the availability of third-party agents is not
guaranteed, and agents are free to refuse to pay for the
release of any arrestee. Further, some arrestees cannot
afford even the 10 % fee.
poor to pay this amount.
Because she was arrested on a
occurred, she would have been forced to remain in jail
for seven days, until the next week’s hearings, before
any judge reviewed her imprisonment or determined that
the required bail was appropriate and reasonable in the
context of her individualized circumstances.
upon learning of the lawsuit, the city released her from
jail a day after her arrest.
barring the public from its courtroom.
lawsuit was filed, the city’s municipal-court policies as
secured bonds remains the same, any person arrested on a
misdemeanor violation is now released on an unsecured
appearance bond as long as she has no outstanding warrant
required to pay the bond if she does not appear for her
scheduled court date.
An arrestee who has an outstanding
bond, commercial surety bond, or signatory bond (backed
by real property) in the amount established by the bail
The current policy also allows city officials
to deny the release of anyone who poses a danger to
For a person who does not obtain immediate release
under this policy, the municipal court will now hold a
individualized determination as to whether the person may
be released, and if so, under what conditions.
understands the requirement in the city’s current policy
guaranteeing “the arrestee ... the opportunity to object
to the bail amount set for him or her” to mean that the
alternative to bail.
A new policy also allows the public
access to the courtroom during court sessions.
With the now pending joint motion for entry of final
judgment and the settlement agreement in support of it,
the parties seek a judgment that, among other things, (1)
resolves all disputes in this matter with the exception
Municipal Court’s current bail practices, as they are
constitutional; (3) requires that the parties comply with
jurisdiction to enforce the settlement agreement and to
resolve the matter of attorney’s fees.
Because a court’s declaration reflects its own views,
this court has an independent obligation to make sure
that the declaration is accurate and appropriate.
practices, the court, as explained below, agrees with the
applicable law and, as result, the court will enter the
person for his poverty,” Bearden v. Georgia, 461 U.S.
the inability to pay
Indeed, this principle applies with special
force to criminal defendants awaiting trial, who have not
been found guilty of any crime.
See United States v.
fundamental nature of the right to pretrial liberty).
While the “[u]tilization of a master bond schedule
provides speedy and convenient release for those who have
incarceration of those who cannot [meet them], without
meaningful consideration of other possible alternatives,
Pugh v. Rainwater, 572 F.2d 1053, 1057
(5th Cir. 1978)2.
Thus, the use of a secured bail schedule to detain a
person after arrest, without an individualized hearing
regarding the person’s indigence and the need for bail or
alternatives to bail, violates the Due Process Clause of
the Fourteenth Amendment.
See Pugh, 572 F.2d at 1056-57
(“[I]imprisonment solely because of indigent status is
Such requirement as is necessary to
provide reasonable assurance of the accused’s presence at
trial is constitutionally permissible.
in excess of that amount would be inherently punitive and
run afoul of due process requirements.”); Bearden, 461
U.S. at 673-74 (explaining, in the context of probation,
that to deprive a person
“of his conditional freedom
simply because, through no fault of his own, he cannot
2. In Bonner v. Prichard, 661 F.2d 1206, 1209 (11th
Cir. 1981) (en banc), the Eleventh Circuit Court of
Appeals adopted as binding precedent all of the decisions
of the former Fifth Circuit handed down prior to the
close of business on September 30, 1981.
pay the fine ... would be contrary to the fundamental
fairness required by the Fourteenth Amendment.”); State
v. Blake, 642 So. 2d 959, 968 (Ala. 1994) (“Under Alabama
law a defendant has an absolute right to bail in all
A system of bail based totally on some
form of monetary bail, and not providing for release on a
Under this precedent, the court finds that, facially,
reflected in the municipal court’s new standing order,
see joint motion for entry of final judgment (doc. no.
72-2) at 8-9, and the court’s above explanation of its
understanding of that policy, see supra at 5-6, meets
constitutional due-process standards.
This court need
beyond what is required.
But it does commend the city
rectify the former policies.
Bail schemes such as the
one formerly enforced in the municipal court result in
the unnecessary pretrial detention of people whom our
system of justice presumes to be innocent.
of detention “has a detrimental impact on the individual.
It often means loss of a job; it disrupts family life;
and it enforces idleness.”
514, 532 (1972).
It can also impede the preparation of
Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S.
guilty so that they may secure a quicker release, see
Andrew D. Leipold, “How the Pretrial Process Contributes
to Wrongful Convictions,” 42 Am. Crim. L. Rev. 1123, 1154
(2005); and it may result in a period of detention that
exceeds the expected sentence, see Stephanos Bibas, “Plea
Bargaining Outside the Shadow of Trial,” 117 Harv. L.
Rev. 2463, 2492 (2004).
Moreover, unnecessary pretrial
detention burdens States, localities, and taxpayers, and
its use appears widespread: nationwide, about 60 % of
jail inmates are pretrial detainees, and the majority of
those people are charged with nonviolent offenses.
Todd D. Minton and Zhen Zeng, U.S. Dep’t of Justice,
Bureau of Justice Statistics, Jail Inmates at Midyear
2014, at 4, http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/jim14.pdf
Richard Williams, Bail or Jail, State Legislatures, May
litigation (doc. no. 75)).
Criminal defendants, presumed innocent, must not be
confined in jail merely because they are poor.
justice at all.
By enacting a new policy that takes
account of the circumstances of those who come before its
(1956) (“Providing equal justice for poor and rich, weak
and powerful alike is an age-old problem.
never ceased to hope and strive to move closer to that
judgment granting the parties’ joint motion for entry of
final judgment and, in accordance with that motion, (1)
declaring that the Clanton Municipal Court’s current bail
policies are facially constitutional, (2) requiring that
the parties comply with their settlement agreement, and
prejudice albeit with the exception that the court will
DONE, this the 14th day of September, 2015.
/s/ Myron H. Thompson___
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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