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Suit challenges jailings of those unable to post bond for minor offenses

A lawsuit has been filed against a North Georgia town where defendants facing minor offenses sit in jail for days at a time because they can't afford bond.

The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, was filed on behalf of Maurice Walker, who was arrested for allegedly being a "pedestrian under the influence." He has remained in jail since his Sept. 3 arrest because he can't pay a $160 bond set by the city, the lawsuit said.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Rome. It was brought by the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta and Equal Justice Under Law in Washington.

"No human being should be kept in jail for any amount of time solely because of his or her poverty," said Alec Karakatsanis, who co-founded Equal Justice Under Law.

In Calhoun, many people arrested for minor traffic and misdemeanor offenses are released from custody almost immediately upon payment to the city, the suit said. But those who are too poor to pay can sit in jail for up to seven days before their first court appearance.

Walker, 54, is disabled with a serious mental disorder and he owns no property or assets, the suit said. His only income consists of about $530 a month in Social Security disability payments, which are sent to and managed by his sister. He has not been able to work the past five years.

After Walker was arrested and placed in a holding cell, a police officer told him that he would not be released until he posted the standard $160 set by the city's bail policy regarding people arrested for his alleged conduct, the suit said.

The lawsuit seeks a judge's order that prohibits the city of Calhoun "from enforcing the unconstitutional post-arrest, money-based detention policies and practices against Mr. Walker and the class of similarly situated people that he represents."

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Bill Rankin covers criminal justice for the Enterprise team.