There is no constitutional right to cash money bail, 3rd U.S. Circuit Court rules in NJ case

A federal appeals court on Monday, July 9, 2018, upheld the constitutionality of a New Jersey law that mostly ended the use of monetary bail in that state.

The Philadelphia-based Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law in a challenge by Brittan Holland, who was accused of second-degree aggravated assault for his alleged involvement in a bar fight.

The New Jersey law had prioritized nonmonetary conditions of release over money bail and had called for a risk-based assessment system to determine whether a defendant is a flight risk or a danger to the community. Holland was released before trial on home detention with electronic monitoring.

The key question, the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, is “whether there is a federal constitutional right to deposit money or obtain a corporate surety bond to ensure a criminal defendant’s future appearance in court as an equal alternative to non-monetary conditions of pretrial release. Our answer is no.”

Another plaintiff in the case was the Lexington National Insurance Corp., a company that does business with the bail-bond industry. The 3rd Circuit said the company did not have standing to challenge the law.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey applauded the decision. The group had filed an amicus brief with other organizations in the case, according to a press release.

“This important decision confirms what bipartisan lawmakers in New Jersey have known for years: there is no reason—legal or otherwise—why the thickness of anyone’s wallet should dictate their liberty and freedom,” said ACLU of New Jersey senior supervising attorney Alexander Shalom.

New Jersey had adopted the law after a committee appointed by the state’s chief justice found the state’s reliance on money bail had resulted in the pretrial release of defendants who could afford to pay, even when they posed a flight risk or danger to the community. Poorer defendants who posed a less serious risk and were accused of less serious crimes remained in jail.

Holland had alleged a violation of the Eighth Amendment, which provides “excessive bail shall not be required,” as applied to the states through the 14th Amendment. He also claimed violations of the right to due process under the 14th Amendment, and the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment.

The 3rd Circuit rejected all three arguments, saying he had not demonstrated a likelihood of success that entitled him to an injunction.

At the time of the Constitution, bail relied on personal sureties who pledged to guarantee a defendant’s appearance at trial, according to the 3rd Circuit. The surety agreed to pay a sum of money if the defendant didn’t appear.

Cash bail was gradually adopted in the 20th century, and commercial bail bonding was a product of economic opportunity presented by the eroding personal surety system, the court said.

“Even if the Eighth Amendment provides a ‘right to bail,’” the 3rd Circuit said, “we do not construe its original meaning to include a right to make a cash deposit or to obtain a corporate surety bond to secure pretrial release.” Nor does a contemporary definition of bail mean exclusively monetary bail, the 3rd Circuit said.

The 3rd Circuit also rejected Holland’s due process argument, finding no historical basis to conclude a right to post cash or obtain a corporate surety bond. The court also found no violation of a right to procedural due process because of safeguards in the New Jersey law, including a right to seek modification of bail conditions when circumstances change.

The court also found no Fourth Amendment violation created by Holland’s ankle bracelet. Holland had argued cash bail was less intrusive than a bracelet. But the 3rd Circuit said the Supreme Court has not required consideration of less intrusive means when determining the reasonableness of government action under the Fourth Amendment.

The case is Holland v. Rosen. Judge Thomas Ambro wrote the panel opinion.