Feb 5, 2024 - News

Bill would add more crimes that require cash bail

Illustration of hands behind bars made up of stacked rolls of money. 

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Legislation that would expand the list of crimes that require cash bail is moving through the General Assembly.

Why it matters: The move would overhaul years of criminal justice reforms and add 30 additional crimes — including criminal trespassing, failure to appear, racketeering, domestic terrorism and rioting — to the list of those that require judges to impose cash bail over other alternatives.

  • Opponents say it would hurt people who need assistance from churches and nonprofits to be released from jail for smaller crimes like reckless driving.

The latest: Senate Bill 63 passed the Senate last week and now goes to the House for consideration.

  • If passed, it would restrict those operating charitable bail organizations from posting more than three cash bonds per year.
  • Those groups would also have to meet the same legal requirements as bond companies.

What they're saying: Majority Whip Sen. Randy Robertson (R-Cataula), the chief sponsor of the legislation, said during Thursday's floor debate that the cash-only requirement would only apply to certain offenses, like failure to appear, reckless driving and criminal trespass, if it's a person's second or subsequent offense.

  • "This is a good bill," Robertson said. "It has been vetted by many more attorneys that are in this chamber."

The other side: The Southern Center for Human Rights, which opposes the bill, told Axios in a statement that the proposal is an "unconstitutional abridgment of the right to free speech, the presumption of innocence and the prohibition against unreasonable bail."

  • "The proposal represents the culmination of years of local and state actors stoking fear by amplifying crime wave narratives, despite crime trending downward," the group said.
  • Civil rights organizations say alternatives to cash bail could include sending reminders for court dates as well as unsecured monetary bail, which a defendant would pay if they do not show up for proceedings.

Of note: State Sen. Josh McLaurin (D-Sandy Springs), who voted against the bill, told Axios on Friday that the portion of the bill that restricts how many times charitable organizations can post bond is "transparently targeted at protesters" of Atlanta's public safety training center.

Between the lines: The Senate's approval of the bill deviates from the criminal justice reform Georgia saw under former Gov. Nathan Deal, including a 2018 law which included allowing judges to weigh whether a defendant could pay up in establishing bail, the AJC reported.

  • Also in 2018, the city of Atlanta banned cash bail requirements for detainees at its Detention Center.

Zoom out: Some state governments have eliminated cash bail altogether. The Illinois Supreme Court in 2023 upheld a law that eliminates cash bail for defendants.

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