Judge temporarily blocks Georgia law that limits people or groups to posting 3 bonds a year

Judge temporarily blocks Georgia law that limits people or groups to posting 3 bonds a year
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ATLANTA– A federal judge on Friday temporarily blocked part of a Georgia law that imposes restrictions organizations that help people post bail so that they can be released while their criminal cases are pending.

U.S. District Judge Victoria Marie Calvert blocked part of Senate Bill 63 from taking effect Monday after a hearing in Atlanta. The judge suspends the law for fourteen days and orders lawyers to present arguments on whether the law should be suspended until a lawsuit over the measure is resolved.

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The escrow portion restricts individuals and organizations from issuing more than three cash bonds per year unless they meet the requirements for surety companies. That means you must undergo background checks, pay fees, have a business license, get approval from the local sheriff, and establish an escrow account in cash or some other form of collateral.

Calvert allows other parts of the law that require cash bail before people charged with 30 additional crimes can be released from pretrial detention. That list contains 18 violations that are always or often crimes, including failure to appear in court for a traffic ticket.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia and the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown University Law Center filed the lawsuit on June 21. They represent the Barred Business Foundation, an Atlanta-based nonprofit whose activities include facilitating cash bail campaigns, as well as two people who live in Athens and manage a charitable bail fund with their church.

The lawsuit argues that limits on bail are unconstitutional and asks the judge to prevent them from being enforced.

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It says the law “imposes perhaps the most onerous restrictions on charity surety funds in the country,” while imposing those restrictions on charity surety funds is “incredibly burdensome – perhaps insurmountable – and is both irrational and arbitrary.” The complaint alleges that if the statute takes effect, “these restrictions will effectively eliminate charitable bail funds in Georgia.”

Earlier this month, the Bail Project, a national nonprofit that helps thousands of low-income people post bail, announced that it has closed its Atlanta branch because of the law.

“We are encouraged by the judge’s ruling and recognition that this law is unnecessary, harmful and likely unconstitutional,” Cory Isaacson, legal director of the ACLU of Georgia, said in a statement. “We are relieved for our claimants and the many people across the state they serve. It is unacceptable that people who do charity bail work are subject to criminal penalties just because they help people who are languishing in prison because of their poverty and have no other means to to get help.”

A spokesman for Attorney General Chris Carr did not immediately respond to a text message seeking comment Friday night. The state argued in a brief filed Thursday that the law does not violate the plaintiffs’ rights to free speech and association because it would regulate only non-expressive conduct. The state says the challengers can still criticize Georgia’s cash bail system and that posting bail itself does not send any message.

Supporters of the measure say well-meaning organizations should have no problem following the same rules as bail bonds companies. It comes amid conservative efforts to limit community bail funds, which have been used to pay bail for people involved in 2020 protests against racial injustice and, more recently, for demonstrators opposing the construction of a public safety training center near Atlanta.

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Prosecutors have noted that some “Stop Cop City” protesters had the Atlanta Solidarity Fund phone number written on their bodies, which they said was evidence that they were planning to do something that could get them arrested. Three leaders of the bail fund were indicted last year for charity fraud and are among the 61 charged with extortion.

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