The implementation of Florida Statute § 903.286(1) violates the Eighth Amendment and financially guts local reform groups like the Tallahassee Bail Fund
TALLAHASSEE, FL – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida filed a lawsuit today on behalf of the Tallahassee Bail Fund against Gwendolyn Marshall, the Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller for Leon County. The lawsuit challenges Clerk Marshall’s enforcement of Florida Statute § 903.286, which improperly confiscates charitable organizations’ money to punish them for helping accused persons access their freedom. This statute violates the Eighth Amendment by allowing clerks to use cash bail to impose criminal penalties on innocent parties, such as bail funds, which deprives them of the money that makes their operation possible.
“The enforcement of this statute is yet another unprecedented attack on bail funds. Wealth-based incarceration in the name of cash bail does not make communities safer, it lines the pockets of government and private interests. While we wait for the Leon County Clerk of the Circuit Court to enact key systemic change, it’s important to continue to support groups like the Tallahassee Bail Fund, not place undue burden on them,” said Jerry Edwards, staff attorney at the ACLU of Florida.
In recent years, calls to end wealth-based pre-trial detention, concerns about physical safety and overcrowding, and jails’ inability to protect the health of people arrested during the COVID-19 pandemic have all thrust local bail funds into the national spotlight. The Tallahassee Bail Fund was established in 2020 to address these concerns, as well as provide people who are incarcerated with community support and resources to help them navigate the complicated legal system. The Tallahassee Bail Fund’s model relies on recovering posted bond money.
“We are grateful for the ACLU of Florida’s legal support in helping to interrupt a crippling practice of court fines and fees that, on top of cash bail, makes the price tag on freedom untenable for us and families across Leon County. For a group working every day to get people out of cages and home to their loved ones, this justice effort is a beacon of light and a lifeline,” said Hannah Schwadron, co-founder of the Tallahassee Bail Fund.
The ACLU of Florida is asking the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida to declare Fla. Stat. § 903.286 unconstitutional and prohibit Clerk Marshall’s continued enforcement.
The full complaint is available here.