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State law lets courts keep some bail money, making it hard for charitable bail funds to operate.

The word "Bail Bonds" is painted in white and orange block letters on a glass window
LMPark Photos

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida says a state law that lets clerks of court keep bail money in certain cases is unconstitutional. The group has filed a lawsuit against the statue on behalf of the Tallahassee Bail Fund.

The Tallahassee Bail Fund is a volunteer organization that raises money to cover the cost of bail for Leon County residents who otherwise couldn’t afford it. That allows them to be released from jail while awaiting their trials. In most cases bail is returned once a person’s case is complete, but a Florida law lets clerks keep that money to cover fines and fees when it comes from friends, family or charitable organizations instead of a commercial bondsman.

“When the Tallahassee bail fund comes in and they post cash bonds on behalf of a person who can’t afford it, if that person is then convicted and given a sentence that says you have a $2,000 fine, well the cash bond that they posted, let’s say it’s also $2,000, that fine would then be taken from the cash bond instead of the cash bond being returned to the Tallahassee bail fund,” says ACLU lawyer Jerry Edwards.

Edwards says that makes it difficult for the group of keep operating because it uses a “revolving fund model.”

“They need to get the money back so that they can bail out the next person. So what they’re doing is they post cash bonds, and they’re betting that this person will come back and appear as required so that the clerks can’t forfeit it. If they do that, the money is supposed to come back to them so they can bail out the next person and so on and so forth," Edwards says. "And that way they’re kind of working together with the people they bail out to help other people get bailed out in the future. And this statute basically makes that impossible to do in a sustainable way."

The ACLU argues the state law that allows the practice is unconstitutional because it imposes a excessive bail by placing conditions on the bail and imposes an excessive fine because it essentially fines the bail fund. Edwards says the practice also violates due process.

There's no time frame yet for how the case will move forward.

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Regan McCarthy is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media. Before coming to Tallahassee, Regan graduated with honors from Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. She worked for several years for NPR member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., where she covered local and state government and produced feature and community stories.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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