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Judicial abuse of power

Melvin B. Miller

An effort is underway to eliminate an egregious impairment of human rights. All across the country, citizens who are unable to post bail for minor offenses are jailed until the matter is adjudicated. This procedure is extensive but has not gained general attention because all the victims of this injustice are poor and unable to protest. Their plight is ignored.

The purpose of bail is to allow a person to be at liberty until liability for a criminal offense is determined at trial. However, many indigent defendants are jailed because they cannot afford to pay the bail. According to the Vera Institute of Justice, 62 percent of those in U.S. jails have not been convicted of a crime. The Pretrial Justice Institute found that 53 percent of those accused of felonies are jailed because they cannot post bail.

Civil rights lawyers have begun an assault on the bail system as a deprivation of the 14th Amendment rights of the indigent. Until these issues are resolved, non-profit organizations like the Cambridge-based Massachusetts Bail Fund provide bail up to $500 for pretrial defendants.

It is patently unjust that a person accused of a crime who is not a flight risk or a danger to the public should be jailed only because of poverty.

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