An accused may be detained pretrial by two methods.  When no conditions of pretrial release would reasonably assure public safety or the accused’s required appearance, the government may seek pretrial detention pursuant to Florida’s pretrial detention statute and rule.  Under this first method, the government bears the burden of showing beyond a reasonable doubt the need for pretrial detention.  Alternatively, the accused may be detained by imposing an unaffordable monetary bail.  Although this also results in pretrial detention, the government has no burden to establish the necessity of the monetary bail.  Indeed, many times no need exists because a lower, affordable monetary bail or permitting the accused to satisfy the monetary bail through an unsecured appearance bond would reasonably achieve the government’s pretrial interests. 

In the face of these two methods, unsurprisingly, the government regularly sidesteps the first method in favor of the lenient, deferential second method to effects pretrial detention.  However, the government should not be able to deprive liberty so easily.  The state court must only impose an unaffordable bail with the heighten degree of confidence and consideration of less-restrictive alternative measures.  Anything less violates the Fourteenth Amendment.

Approximately 250 presumably-innocent criminal defendants are eligible for pretrial release, but remain incarcerated awaiting trial in the Leon County jail, solely because they cannot afford the imposed monetary bail.  They are detained through the second method in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

On Oct. 13, 2017, the ACLU filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court.  On behalf of a class of inmates, we seek to ensure that the government abides by the constitutional and statutory framework for effecting pretrial detention.


Benjamin Stevenson, Jackie Azis

Date filed

October 13, 2017


Northern District Court of Florida Tallahassee Division