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ACLU says Florida counties setting unreasonable bail amounts

Posted at 9:48 PM, Nov 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-19 04:03:44-05

TAMPA, Fla. — The ACLU of Florida says pretrial bail amounts aren't being set in a fair way in Sarasota and Manatee counties. And in a recently filed petition, they claim the systemic issue has caused at least 11 people to sit in jail unnecessarily.

"In these individuals cases they are innocent, they are presumed innocent in a court of law," said Jacqueline Azis of the ACLU of Florida.

The bail amounts range from $500 to $250,000 and the ACLU of Florida says none of those folks can afford to pay.

"Well, $500 that's pretty low. It doesn't matter if it's low if it results in that person's pretrial detention," said Azis.

According to the group, the courts should have taken the defendants' financial state into account when setting a bail amount or considered offering another form of pretrial monitoring.

"The court can also put restrictions on where the person can go, the court can also put restrictions on what people can do, who they can talk to, who they can see, the court can order GPS monitoring," she said," What we're challenging is the process that the court went to to get that bail amount. So if the process is unlawful, the bail amount is unlawful regardless of if the amount $500 or $500,000."

And they say it's an issue, everyone should be concerned about.

"It also impacts taxpayers because it is taxpayers that end up paying for these individuals to be in custody," said Azis.

They filed the petition as a class action on Monday, asking the courts to reconsider their pretrial stipulations for these defendants. But then just days later, there was an update in the case.

As of Wednesday night, they've had to refile, because a judge threw out the class action and encouraged them to file each petition individually.

"And we may get 11 separate panels of judges. And usually, it's three-judge panels that looks at each case," said Azis.

The ACLU of Florida expects to have a final decision from the courts by mid-December. But in the meantime, they're asking anyone with similar concerns to reach out.

"If you know of anyone that that's happening to please do not hesitate to contact us if they are simply sitting in jail because they cannot afford their pretrial freedom," she said.

Due to the type of petition they filed, Azis says they had to name the Sarasota County Sheriff and the Manatee County Sheriff as defendants since they are the head of the jails that the defendants are being held in.

ABC Action News reached out to both sheriff's offices for comment.

The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office released the following statement:

This is a Habeas Corpus petition which are handled by the Attorney General’s Office. The respective sheriffs in Florida follow the bail as set by the presiding judge. The bail procedures and amounts are set by the circuit court. Sheriffs do not set or control the bond amounts.

The Manatee County Sheriff's Office released this statement:

This is a Writ of Habeas Corpus and response to the petitioner(s) will be provided by the Attorney General. No civil legal action has been taken involving Sheriff Wells, so he will not be commenting.