Equal Justice Under Law


Ending American Money Bail


No one should spend time in jail simply because he or she is poor, but every day about 450,000 Americans sit in jail for that very reason.

Despite the constitutional guarantee that everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty, our current money bail system forces arrestees to pay an arbitrary amount of bail money to secure release before trial. Those who can afford to purchase their liberty walk free, while those who can’t languish in jail pending trial. The result is discriminatory pretrial detention based on wealth-status, not any meaningful assessment of flight risk or danger to the community.

Equal Justice Under Law is dedicated to ending this discriminatory practice of jailing hundreds of Americans solely because of their poverty by filing class action lawsuits against money bail systems all across the country.

A Societal Problem

Wealth-based detention has disastrous consequences: overcrowding of local jails, lost jobs, lost housing, poor sanitation and medical care, broken families, and drained local budgets. In many cases, an arrestee may be held longer in jail while awaiting trial than any sentence she or he would likely receive if convicted, causing innocent people to plead guilty to offenses that they did not commit in order to shorten lengthy pretrial detention. Individuals who are detained are not able to assist their attorneys in the investigation of the charges against them, resulting in wrongful convictions and longer sentences.

As the U.S. Department of Justice said in an amicus brief  filed in our money bail case in Alabama, Varden v. City of Clanton:


It is the position of the United States that, as courts have long recognized, any bail or bond scheme that mandates payment of pre-fixed amounts for different offenses in order to gain pre-trial release, without any regard for indigence, not only violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, but also constitutes bad public policy.

Solving the Problem

We are fighting hard to bring this discriminatory system to an end by bringing legal challenges all across the country, calling money bail unconstitutional because it creates two separate systems of justice, one for the rich and another for people who are poor. We have filed 12 challenges against money bail in 9 states. Our work is also inspiring potential policy changes at the federal and state levels. We have worked closely with Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA), who in February 2016 introduced the No Money Bail Act, which would help end the money bail system across the nation. We are an endorser of the bill and continue to work closely as it progresses through the Congress.

As the first organization to file successful cases in multiple states, Equal Justice Under Law is widely seen as a leader on the issue.




Buffin v. San Francisco

Date Filed: October 28, 2015

Equal Justice Under Law is arguing that San Francisco’s money bail system is an unconstitutional, discriminatory wealth-based detention scheme that must come to an end...


Welchen v. Sacramento

Date Filed: October 16, 2016

this complaint argues 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....


Christy Dawn Varden v. Clanton, Alabama

Date Filed: January 15, 2015

Christy Dawn Varden is a recent arrestee who is currently imprisoned by the City because she cannot afford to pay the amount of money generically set by the "bail schedule" used by the City...


Donya Pierce v. Velda City, Missouri

Date Closed: June 3, 2015

The use of a secured bail schedule to set the conditions for release of a person in custody after arrest for an offense that may be prosecuted by Velda City implicates the protections of the Equal Protection Clause when such a schedule is applied to the indigent...


Karen Powell v. St. Ann, Missouri

Date Filed: May 27, 2015

The city of St. Ann violates the rights of the poor by jailing them because they cannot pay a small amount of money, according to a complaint filed Wednesday in federal court. The suit seeks class action status...


Chevon Thompson v. Moss Point, Mississippi

Date Filed: June 12, 2016

A lawsuit settled in federal court means Moss Point will no longer jail most people after a misdemeanor arrest, whether they can afford bond or not. The order also forbids the city from jailing people for non-payment of fines, court costs, fees and bond revocations unless legal procedures have been followed...


Anthony Cooper v. Dothan, Alabama

Date Filed: June 2015

The class action lawsuit was filed last week by 56-year-old Anthony Cooper, and his two lawyers, in connection to how the city’s bail bond system has been set up for people charged with misdemeanors and traffic offenses and booked into the city jail. Records show Cooper has challenged the use of fixed secured bail amounts used to detain the poor on minor misdemeanor offenses...


Rebecca M. Snow v. Ascension Parish, Louisiana

Date Filed: September 2015

Filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge, the suit takes aim at the unfailing application of Ascension’s generic “bail schedule,” a process the suit says gives poor defendants no other options to gain their release if they can’t afford bail. With unsecured bail, for example, defendants don’t pay upfront but promise in writing to show up for court or risk having to pay the bail...


Lawrence J. Martinez v. Dodge City, Kansas

Date Filed: October 2015

Poor arrestees are stuck behind bars for 48 hours simply because they cannot afford to pay the City’s pre-determined sum of money. The amount of the bond is fixed and predetermined for each offense, ranging from $250-$2,500. Those arrestees who are too poor to afford several hundred dollars remain in jail because of their poverty for at least two days, at which time Dodge City typically releases them for free...