Walking while intoxicated case could force changes in Georgia courts

A court order condemning the city of Calhoun's bail system may force changes in courts around the state, the Southern Center for Human Rights said Friday.

The order came in a lawsuit over the treatment of Maurice Walker, who was jailed in September on a "pedestrian under the influence" charge. Walker could have been released if he had been able to immediately pay $160, the city's pre-set bail amount. But the 54-year-old disabled man is indigent and didn't have the money, the lawsuit said.

Walker spent six days behind bars and was only released after his pro bono lawyers objected to his jailing in a lawsuit, the Southern Center said. He later paid the $160 fine, said the Southern Center's Sarah Geraghty, one of Walker's attorneys.

Sarah Geraghty is the managing attorney of the Impact Litigation Unit at the Southern Center for Human Rights.

Credit: Carrie Teegardin

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Credit: Carrie Teegardin

Walker's lawyers filed a class action lawsuit objecting to the city's system that allows people with money to post bail and get released immediately after being charged with minor crimes, while poor people must wait up to a week in jail before seeing a judge.

In many small cities around Georgia, including Calhoun, court takes place just once a week or sometimes every two weeks.

Walker's suit is pending in federal court in Rome.

U.S. District Judge Harold L. Murphy granted a preliminary injunction, stating that the City “may not continue to keep arrestees in its custody for any amount of time solely because the arrestees cannot afford a secured monetary bond.”

The order also said that “keeping individuals in jail solely because they cannot pay for their release, whether via fines, fees, or a cash bond, is impermissible.”

The order has already forced changes in Calhoun, a small city in northwest Georgia.

"The municipal court has adjusted policies to adhere to Judge Murphy’s order and is in discussions with our legal team about where to go next," said George Govignon, Calhoun's city attorney.

Geraghty said the case should force changes around the state. She said Calhoun is among a number of courts statewide where someone's ability to pay determines whether or not they have to stay in jail for days after being arrested on a traffic offense or other misdemeanor.

"Other cities should be aware of the fact that this issue may be coming to a courtroom near them," Geraghty said.

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