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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 20, 2024

February 20, 2024

The preliminary injunction order states Florida Statute § 903.286(1) violates the Eighth Amendment and punishes charities for helping Floridians escape wealth-based detention

TALLAHASSEE, FL – The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida blocked the enforcement of Florida Statute § 903.286, which improperly confiscates charitable organizations’ money to punish them for helping accused persons access their freedom. 

In 2022, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Tallahassee Bail Fund against Gwendolyn Marshall, the Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller for Leon County. The lawsuit challenged Clerk Marshall’s enforcement of the statute and claimed the statute violates the Eighth Amendment by allowing clerks to use cash bail to impose criminal penalties on innocent parties, such as bail funds, depriving them of the money that makes their operations possible.

"We are thrilled with this victory, which ensures we can continue our work of bailing out people who cannot afford it in Leon County,” said Malia Bruker on behalf of the Tallahassee Bail Fund. “We believe that caging people before they’ve even had the chance to stand trial, simply due to lack of means, harms our community. We’re grateful to the ACLU of Florida for standing up for our rights as a bail fund and for the disadvantaged in Leon County.” 

 “Now, the groundswell of community support and donations will be used as intended—to facilitate the release of those presumed innocent—and not to enrich the state coffers,” said Benjamin Stevenson, Stevenson Legal, PLLC, cooperating counsel.  

In its order, the court stated that clerks cannot punish charities for helping indigent Floridians escape wealth-based detention.  It made clear that the government cannot condition access to the bail system by forcing these charitable organizations or individuals to pay for guilty parties’ criminal penalties instead of being refunded. To put an end to this practice, the court issued an injunction stopping the Leon County Clerk of Court from enforcing § 903.286 against the Tallahassee Bail Fund. 

The court’s decision sends a strong message to clerks of court across Florida: Using Florida Statute § 903.286 to take innocent people’s money violates the Eighth Amendment. As a result of this injunction, clerks must immediately put an end to this unconstitutional practice. 

“A grandmother shouldn’t have to worry about losing her money if she helps her grandchild bail out of jail and ensures he shows up for his court dates,”  said Jerry Edwards, staff attorney at the ACLU of Florida. “ This unconstitutional policy enriches the government and commercial bail bondsmen at the expense of any person or group who might post cash bail to help a loved one get out of jail.”

A copy of the order can be found here