Georgia governor signs controversial bail fund restrictions, expands cash bail

Written by on May 2, 2024

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(ATLANTA) — A controversial Republican-backed bill that would criminalize state bail funds and expand the list of charges that require cash or property bail has been signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp.

“This bill carries out important bail reforms that will ensure dangerous individuals cannot walk our streets and commit further crimes,” said Kemp, in statements provided by his office concerning the signing of the bill.

The bill adds roughly 30 charges that would be ineligible for release without a property or cash bond. These charges include unlawful assembly and obstruction of a law enforcement officer, and racketeering and conspiracy.

These are some of the charges that have been made against several “Cop City” protesters, who have been demonstrating against the construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, which will be used for specialized training for both law enforcement and fire department service workers.

The bill would also make it a misdemeanor for “any individual, corporation, organization, charity, nonprofit corporation, or group in any jurisdiction” to submit bail for more than three people a year. Bail is the money a defendant must pay to get out of jail while they await a trial, according to legal research database Justia. It’s collateral for the court to ensure that the defendant will return for the remainder of their criminal trial.

Bail funds and local advocacy groups often pay for arrestees linked to certain causes to be released from jail as soon as possible. For example, this could affect Southerners On New Ground, which bails out Black mothers and caregivers on Mother’s Day or groups like the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, which bails out protesters who have been arrested during demonstrations. When Sen. Kim Jackson asked if the bill would impact her church congregation’s ability to post bail as a charity, Sen. Josh McLaurin said that it would, according to the language of the legislation.

McLaurin – who is opposed to the bill – argued that this would force judges to set bail even in cases in which defendants would have otherwise been released on their own recognizance, including those who are charged with low-level or non-violent offenses. He added that it could worsen conditions in Georgia jails.

“We have to remember somebody is innocent until proven guilty when they’re held pretrial,” said McLaurin. “So, what that means is it is unconstitutional to use cash bail or pretrial procedure as punishment.”

Republican Sen. Randy Robertson argued the legislation would make communities feel safer and address concerns about violence.

“Our county jails are not overpopulated with misdemeanants who cannot afford to make bond,” he said, according to the local news outlet Georgia Recorder.

He also cited the Supreme Court case – Citizens United v. FEC – which ruled that restrictions on “independent expenditures” is a ban on speech.

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