Pa. ACLU asks Supreme Court to tell Philly to stop jailing people who can’t afford cash bail | Friday Morning Coffee

January 31, 2020 7:13 am

Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Arguing that Philadelphia’s cash bail system unfairly jails the people who can least afford it, the state branch of the American Civil Liberties Union has filed more briefings asking the state Supreme Court to end the practice.

“While the courts in Philadelphia have agreed to make some positive steps towards better implementation of the rules regarding the use of cash bail, we hope to soon see that commitment realized,” ACLU Executive Director Reggie Shuford said in a statement. “We don’t need to change the law or pass new legislation if we want to stop the improper use of cash bail; we just need to follow the existing rules. By clarifying and enforcing these rules, the state Supreme Court can ensure consistency and fairness in Philadelphia, which should then have a ripple effect for all counties in Pennsylvania.”

The ACLU filed a lawsuit in state Supreme Court last year seeking to stop Philadelphia’s practice of incarcerating people living in poverty who cannot afford cash bail, saying it violated the Supreme Court’s rules of criminal procedure. This week’s filing by the ACLU “comes after months of mediation in response to a special master’s report that was submitted to the court in December, the statement reads.

The lawsuit “asks for full due process hearings for those defendants that the commonwealth wishes to detain pretrial; that arraignment court magistrates should employ a presumption against the use of cash bail; and that the court expand the use of alternatives to cash bail, such as pretrial notification programs, like texts and phone calls, both of which have been shown to be more effective in ensuring court appearances than monetary bail,” the ACLU said in its statement.

The ACLU’s brief was filed alongside amicus briefs submitted by the Defender Association of PhiladelphiaPhiladelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office, as well as filings by law professors, former prosecutors, scholars and interdisciplinary experts, and others, the ACLU said in its statement.

(Patrick Feller/Flickr)

Holding people who cannot make bail can have disastrous effects — particularly for those living in poverty, the ACLU warned Thursday. That includes losing their jobs, access to medical care, or their families.

The ACLU said it watched more than 2,000 bail hearings in Philadelphia’s criminal court system in 2018 and 2019 which led to the litigation. On average, the bail hearings that ACLU staff and volunteers watched lasted less than three minutes, the civil rights group said.

The state Supreme Court announced last July that it would study  “alleged systemic failures” in Philadelphia’s cash bail system. In an order, the high court said that while it was open to suggestions to improving the existing cash bail system, “any attempt to advocate for the abolition of cash bail,” is not on the table.

“We must get past the notion that the primary job of a judge is to incarcerate people and instead keep the constitutional promise of presumption of innocence as our North Star,” Nyssa Taylor, the ALCU‘s criminal justice policy counsel, and a lead attorney in the lawsuit, said. “All stakeholders in the criminal legal system have a responsibility to ensure that the rules are followed at every step of criminal legal proceedings, from police to prosecutors to judges.”

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Our Stuff.
Couldn’t make it to our #PennForward forum on gun violence reduction on Thursday night? We’ve got you covered. We streamed the forum on Facebook, and you can watch it right here.

From our partners at, here’s a look at how state governments are preparing for the 2020 elections.

The U.S. House voted — again — Thursday to limit President Donald Trump’s war-making powers. Washington Bureau Chief Robin Bravender has a rundown on how Pa.’s Capitol Hill delegation voted.

Facing a federal indictment, Philadelphia City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson has proclaimed his innocence, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Page, an activist with the state branch of Moms Demand would like you to remember the victims of gun violence during a commemorative week that begins next week.  President Donald Trump’s travel ban was wrong the first time. He can’t get away with it againU.S. Rep. Mary Gay ScanlonD-5th District, opines.

Love Park in Philadelphia (Photo via Flickr Commons)

Philadelphia officials offer little assistance to businesses when water mains break, the Inquirer reports.
Violent crime decreased in Pittsburgh in 2019, but there are still ‘trouble spots,’ the Post-Gazette reports.
The Morning Call explains how Pennsylvania will ‘make or break’ Donald Trump’s re-election bid.
The Wolf administration has awarded $1 billion in economic development grants — you can check to see if your community received one (via PennLive).

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:

WHYY-FM explains why Philly can’t quit a political tradition known as ‘councilmanic prerogative,’ even though it’s at the center of Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson’s federal probe.
Long a headache, Pennsylvania’s statewide emergency radio system may finally soon be working correctlythe PA Post reports.
Former GOP Lackawanna County Commissioner Laureen Cummings is mulling a 2022 guv runPoliticsPA reports. looks at rural America’s healthcare crisis.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a critical swing vote, says he’s a ‘no’ on calling witnesses for impeachment, Roll Call reports.

What Goes On.
10 a.m., Main Rotunda: The Pa. School Boards Association releases its annual budget survey.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
State Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery, holds a 9 a.m. breakfast at Buona Via Ristorante in Horsham, Pa. Admission runs $50 to $150.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept. 
Best wishes go out to Lisa Wardle, of the PA Post, and to an old friend, Pete Palladino, rock star extraordinaire, both of whom celebrate today. Congratulations and enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation.
Speaking of the aforementioned Mr. Palladino, here’s his old band, central Pennsylvania stalwarts, The Badlees, and “Fear of Falling,” from their 1995 breakthrough LP, “River Songs.”

Friday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
got past Buffalo 3-1 on Thursday night. Buffalo’s Jack Eichel picked up his 30th goal.

And now you’re up to date.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.