Welchen v. Sacramento

Equal Justice Under Law is arguing that the city’s pay-for-freedom pretrial justice system is an unconstitutional wealth-based detention scheme that unfairly detains poor arrestees while letting wealthier arrestees free.


Gary Welchen is a 50-year-old resident of Sacramento. Gary Welchen is an indigent arrestee who was kept in the county jail solely because he was too poor to pay the amount of money that the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department demanded for his release. Gary has experienced homelessness on several occasions, and his sole source of income is social security disability payments. He represents himself as an individual and represents a Class of similarly situated people subjected to Defendants’ wealth-based detention system.

In Sacramento, arrestees face two different outcomes depending on their wealth status. If Gary had been rich enough to pay $10,000 — like many wealthier people accused of the same offense — he could have walked out of his jail cell immediately under Sacramento County’s pay-for-freedom pretrial justice system. Because the only criterion standing between Gary and freedom was his ability to make a monetary payment, we argue Sacramento operates a wealth-based detention system.

Money bail is a price tag on freedom.
— EJUL Executive Director, Phil Telfeyan

October 10, 2016: The judge ruled that the California Attorney General can be held responsible for her role in implementing money bail. A victory in this case against the Attorney General could have ripple effects across the state and the nation because it will set an important precedent for state officials’ liability.


case details

The Complaint

Status: Closed

Date Filed: 01/30/16

Plaintiffs: Gary Wayne Welchen, on behalf of himself and others similarly situated

Defendants: The County of Sacramento, Kamala Harris in her official capacity as the California Attorney General, and Scott Jones in his capacity as the Sacramento County Sheriff.

Jurisdiction: The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California




This case is ongoing