ACLU, Stanford Law School Suit Challenges Santa Clara County Court’s ‘Unconstitutional,’ and ‘Wealth-Based’ Policy of Jailing Poor If They Can’t Make Initial Bail 

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By The Vanguard 

SAN JOSE, CA – The ACLU Foundation of Northern California and Criminal Defense Clinic at Stanford Law School sued Santa Clara County Superior Court Monday, charging the county’s “wealth-based detention and unequal access to the courts” violates the U.S. and California Constitutions.

 The ACLU maintained in its filing that, “In Santa Clara County, people who want to voluntarily appear in court to address an outstanding arrest warrant must first go to jail if they are too poor to post bail.”

The ACLU Foundation of Northern California and Criminal Defense Clinic at Stanford Law School stressed the county has an “unfair policy that results in an unequal system of justice,” in the pleadings filed on behalf of Nikolaus Jackson O’Neill Rogge and Silicon Valley De-Bug, a non-profit organization.

O’Neill Rogge, according to the suit, discovered he had an outstanding arrest warrant for an alleged non-violent offense when a job-training program ran a routine background check on his application.

“He contacted the clerk of court’s office to request a court date. However, he was told that his only option was to surrender into jail custody because he couldn’t afford the $10,000 bail associated with the warrant. He turned himself into local law enforcement and spent three days locked up, only for the judge to later release him on his own recognizance without having to post a costly bond,” said the ACLU.

“I had never been arrested before and was scared,” O’Neill Rogge said. “It’s unfair that I had to go to jail just because I couldn’t pay but if I’d had the $10,000, they would have given me a court date and sent me home.”

“Equal access to the courts shouldn’t depend on your ability to pay,” said Emi Young, a staff attorney with the criminal justice program at the ACLU of Northern California. “That’s why we’re suing to stop the Santa Clara Superior Court from running a system that unnecessarily locks poor people up, when they just want to appear in court on the charges against them.”

The ACLU, in a statement, argues, “Many California courts allow someone charged with a criminal offense to come straight to court to clear up an outstanding arrest warrant. But not Santa Clara, which in early 2022 began refusing to calendar voluntary appearances for those who can’t post bail.”

“Even a few days of unnecessary incarceration can cause incredible harm, both for the individual and the broader community,” said Raj Jayadev, co-founder of Silicon Valley De-Bug. 

The suit is asking the court to issue a peremptory writ requiring the county to “immediately rescind the Directive and to provide a process for out-of-custody defendants to voluntarily appear and be arraigned on initial arrest warrants without first being subjected to jail custody if they cannot pay uniform monetary bail.”

The filing also asks for “injunctive relief requiring the county immediately rescind the Directive and to provide a process for out-of-custody defendants to voluntarily appear and be arraigned on initial arrest warrants without first being subjected to jail custody if they cannot pay

the Uniform Bail Amount.”

The court is also asked for a “declaration that the Directive and Respondents’ refusal to provide a process by which out-of-custody defendants can voluntarily appear and be arraigned absent payment of uniform monetary bail violates the California and U.S. Constitutions, California statutory law, and the California Rules of Court.”

Jayadev added, “We’re often contacted by people who learn they have an arrest warrant and want to be proactive about dealing with the charges but fear turning themselves into the jail because they are caretakers, are working, or have other responsibilities that will be put at risk.”

“People like Nikolaus O’Neill Rogge are being forced to go to jail even though a judge might decide they should be released when given information about their charges and individual circumstances,” said Carlie Ware Horne, Clinical Supervising Attorney with the Stanford Law Criminal Defense Clinic. 

Horne added, “We are simply asking the Santa Clara Superior Court to bring itself in line with many other counties in California that provide a fair opportunity for people to come to court without first having to post money bail.”

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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