In a significant decision that has sparked intense debate on the constitutionality of cash bail, the U.S. Supreme Court recently declined to hear the case of Hester v. Gentry. The case, initially brought by Bradley Hester in 2018, challenged the practice of requiring indigent defendants to pay schedule-based cash bail prior to being released pre-trial from jail. This article examines the background of the case, the arguments presented by both sides, and the implications of the Supreme Court’s decision to deny hearing the case.
The Case and Legal Battles
Bradley Hester, unable to afford a $1,000 bail after being charged with possession of drug paraphernalia in Cullman County, Alabama, filed a lawsuit claiming that the bail schedule violated his 14th Amendment rights of due process and equal protection. Supported by organizations such as the Civil Rights Corps, Alabama ACLU, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, Hester achieved an initial victory in September 2018 when the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama ruled in his favor, issuing an injunction against Cullman County’s cash bail system.
However, the defense appealed the decision, leading to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta overturning the district court’s ruling in July 2022. The 11th Circuit held that Cullman County’s bail system was constitutional. Subsequently, Hester’s legal team sought a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court, which was ultimately denied.
Amicus Curiae Brief and Reactions
The American Bar Association, in April 2023, filed an amicus curiae brief supporting Hester’s petition to the Supreme Court. The brief argued that Cullman County’s cash bail system perpetuated wealth-based discrimination. On the other hand, Jeff Clayton, executive director of the American Bail Association, hailed the Supreme Court’s decision to deny hearing the case, emphasizing the importance of the constitutional right to monetary bail.
Impact and Ongoing Battle
While disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision, Katherine Hubbard, deputy director of litigation for the Civil Rights Corps, highlighted the continued fight against the unjust practice of detaining individuals pre-trial due to their inability to pay bail. Hubbard pointed out that crucial questions regarding the right to counsel at bail hearings and the plight of those who languish in jail due to poverty remain undecided. Despite the reversal of the district court’s preliminary injunction, she emphasized the positive impact it had during its four-year existence, allowing thousands of people to return home to their families instead of languishing in jail.
Opponents of pre-trial release often argue that it increases crime rates and leads to higher recidivism rates. However, proponents like Katherine Hubbard challenge these claims by presenting evidence that contradicts these notions. Hubbard argues that cash bail destabilizes families who are already economically disadvantaged and has no significant impact on an individual’s likelihood of appearing in court. Data from the Prison Policy Initiative reveals that over 400,000 people are currently held pre-trial across the country, with a disproportionate 43 percent of the population being Black. The annual national cost of pre-trial detention amounts to a staggering $13.6 billion.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to decline hearing the case of Hester v. Gentry has significant implications for the constitutionality of cash bail and the treatment of pre-trial detainees. The ongoing battle against the practice highlights the need to address issues of wealth-based discrimination and ensure equal protection under the law. While the decision may be seen as a setback for advocates seeking bail reform, the fight for justice and fairness continues in district courts across the country. The ultimate goal remains to strike a balance between public safety concerns and the protection of individual rights, ensuring that no one is unjustly detained solely because of their economic circumstances.