Pa. Supreme Court grants inquiry into alleged 'systemic failures' of Philly's bail system

Cherri Gregg
July 09, 2019 - 3:22 pm

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is launching an inquiry into Philadelphia's bail system. The probe comes in response to a class action lawsuit filed last March by the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has appointed a special master who will investigate the operation of the cash bail system in Philadelphia's First Judicial District. The court will use "King's Bench" powers to hear the case - that rule allows the court to supervise lower courts in matters of "great public importance."

"We are incredibly grateful that the Supreme Court has seen our allegations and taken them seriously," said Hayden Nelson-Major, an attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a class action suit in March, arguing that Philadelphia's magistrate judges violated due process, failing to consider alternatives to cash bail. 

They claim the system forced poor clients to spend months, sometimes years, in jail without ever being found guilty simply because they could not afford to buy their way out.

Related: ACLU sues Philadelphia courts over cash bail system

"We documented over 2,000 individual bail hearings, and what we saw was a troubling lack of process and the consistent failure to consider the circumstances of someone's life and what it would take to get them back to court," Nelson-Major said.

The high court has invited the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office and Defender Association to file briefs with the court. 

In its order, the court wrote, any attempt to advocate for the abolition of cash bail would not be entertained. A hearing is ordered to take place within 90 days.