Money Bail: The pro-rich, anti-everyone-else “tax” on the accused

“Equal justice under law” is a phrase engraved on the front of the United States Supreme Court building in Washington D.C. 

On October 1, 2016, we published the post titled, Money bail: Another foible of the Gaps,  Here are a few notes based on that post:

The income/wealth/power Gaps between the rich and the rest, constitute the single, most important economic problem facing America and the world.

The Gaps exacerbate crime, disease, poor education and housing, infrastructure decline, the ecology, unnecessary war, and unfair justice, among other issues.”

I read where an 18-year-old accused of fatally shooting a man was ordered held in lieu of $5 million bail.

Why $5 million? The clear purpose was to make the bail unaffordable for the man, so that he will not be loose on the street.

Why offer any bail at all? Answer: So if it turned out that he was rich, he could avoid jail while he awaited trial.

But, if he had enough money to make bail, would that have proved he offered less risk to the public, while awaiting trial, or was more likely to show up for his trial?

Rich people jump bail all the time.

A judge or magistrate decides the amount of bail by weighing many factors:

— the risk of the defendant fleeing,
— the type of crime alleged,
— the ‘dangerousness‘ of defendants, and
— the safety of the community.

Money bail falsely presumes that poorer people, who are less likely to afford bail money, must be more likely to flee and are more dangerous to the community.

Money bail forces many innocent people to remain in jail for months, simply because they cannot afford to pay.

Sometimes judges set bail at a low amount, even $500. What is the purpose? Why set bail at all, and just rely on the accused to show up for trial?

And what if the accused is too poor even to afford payment of that low amount of bail? What does that prove?

Here is what Bernie Sanders had to say:

“For most of our history as a country, the United States incarcerated people at about the same rates as other western democracies do today.

“In the early 1970s we had the same low crime rate as today, but we now have an incarceration rate five times higher. Indeed, America is now the world’s leading jailer.

“We lock up more than 2 million people in America, which is more of our own people than any country on Earth.

“Hundreds of thousands of incarcerated people in America have not been convicted of a crime and are solely in jail because they can’t afford their bail. We are criminalizing poverty.”

“Right now, hundreds of thousands of people without a criminal conviction are in jail simply because they could not afford bail. Young people can spend hundreds of days in jail, only to be acquitted — yet the severe damage to their lives cannot be undone.

“This is why Bernie introduced the No Money Bail Act of 2018 to end cash bail and to end the criminalization of poverty in America. ”

See also: S: 3271

The money bail system is a relic of the old imperial view that the rich are honest and dependable, while the poor are criminal and irresponsible.

When a judge imposes, for instance, a million-dollar bail, what does that tell you? It says that the judge doesn’t trust the accused to return for trial.

But that bail might require a poor man to languish in jail for weeks or months, while a rich man will be free to go about his business, spend time with his family, perhaps even travel.

And if he is wealthy enough, he even may leave the jurisdiction, sacrifice the million dollars, and go free to a foreign jurisdiction, without enduring a trial.

The notion that the rich can be trusted more than the poor not only is false and bigoted, but dangerous to society.

As currently practiced, it is a violation of the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution and the U.S. Code:”In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial . . . ”

18 U.S.C. § 3161 – U.S. Code – Unannotated Title 18. Crimes and Criminal Procedure § 3161. Time limits and exclusions:

Any information or indictment charging an individual with the commission of an offense shall be filed within thirty days from the date on which such individual was arrested or served with a summons in connection with such charges.

If an individual has been charged with a felony in a district in which no grand jury has been in session during such thirty-day period, the period of time for filing of the indictment shall be extended an additional thirty days.

In any case in which a plea of not guilty is entered, the trial of a defendant charged in an information or indictment with the commission of an offense shall commence within seventy days from the filing date (and making public) of the information or indictment, or from the date the defendant has appeared before a judicial officer of the court in which such charge is pending, whichever date last occurs.

If a defendant consents in writing to be tried before a magistrate judge on a complaint, the trial shall commence within seventy days from the date of such consent.

Any period of delay resulting from a continuance granted by any judge on his own motion or at the request of the defendant or his counsel or at the request of the attorney for the Government, if the judge granted such continuance on the basis of his findings that the ends of justice served by taking such action outweigh the best interest of the public and the defendant in a speedy trial.

In short, the Constitution allows an innocent person to be held for 60 to 70 days, to any length of time that “serves the ends of justice.”‘

So if you are accused of a crime you didn’t commit, and you don’t have access to the bail money set by a judge, you could suffer in jail for weeks, months, years — even for longer than a guilty verdict would impose.

If you are rich, you don’t need to worry about that.

Is that equal justice for all?

Some might claim that the bail system actually protects you, because if it didn’t exist, judges might be tempted to keep innocent you in jail longer, just to protect against you fleeing.

Judges are people. They do smart things and they do stupid things. They convict innocent people and find guilty people innocent. There is no failsafe method of justice.

But, we trudge on.

Americans believe it is better to release a guilty person than to imprison an innocent person. (That is why we require all 12 people in a jury, rather than just a majority, to agree on criminal charges.)

But the bail system imprisons innocent people every day — often for long periods.

I suggest we eliminate the entire bail system, and replace it with an honor system along with an ankle bracelet system.

Yes, that will allow some criminals to flee, and it also will allow some to create crimes while awaiting trial. But that is the price we should be willing to pay so that we stop imprisoning innocent people for lengthy terms.

It is far more in keeping with the purposes of the Sixth Amendment.  

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell
Monetary Sovereignty
Twitter: @rodgermitchell
Search #monetarysovereigntyFacebook: Rodger Malcolm Mitchell


The most important problems in economics involve the excessive income/wealth/power Gaps between the richer and the poorer.

Wide Gaps negatively affect poverty, health and longevity, education, housing, law and crime, war, leadership, ownership, bigotry, supply and demand, taxation, GDP, international relations, scientific advancement, the environment, human motivation and well-being, and virtually every other issue in economics.

Implementation of The Ten Steps To Prosperity can narrow the Gaps:

Ten Steps To Prosperity:

1. Eliminate FICA

2. Federally funded Medicare — parts a, b & d, plus long-term care — for everyone

3. Provide a monthly economic bonus to every man, woman and child in America (similar to social security for all)

4. Free education (including post-grad) for everyone

5. Salary for attending school

6. Eliminate federal taxes on business

7. Increase the standard income tax deduction, annually. 

8. Tax the very rich (the “.1%”) more, with higher progressive tax rates on all forms of income.

9. Federal ownership of all banks

10. Increase federal spending on the myriad initiatives that benefit America’s 99.9% 

The Ten Steps will grow the economy, and narrow the income/wealth/power Gap between the rich and you.


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