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Alabama Supreme Court halts Montgomery County bail change

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

The Alabama Supreme Court on Friday stayed a Montgomery County judicial order to greatly expand the list of felonies that don’t require bail for the  pretrial release of defendants.

The one-page order from the court said the Sept. 22 order from Fifteenth Circuit Court Judge Johnny Hardwick is stayed until further notice. The change in who needed to post bail before being released was supposed to go into effect Oct. 1.

That order only applied to Montgomery County, but Hardwick last week told Alabama Daily News he hopes it will serve as a model for bond reform statewide. The judge said that low-income people are disproportionately affected by the current bond system.

“If you don’t have any money, you can’t get out of jail,” Hardwick said. Hardwick said the order only applied to non-violent crimes.

Law enforcement groups quickly said they would challenge Hardwick’s order and Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey in a written letter asked the Supreme Court to intervene and listed several concerns. 

“The Alabama Supreme Court has the power to make and promulgate rules governing practice and procedure in all courts within our state,” Bailey wrote. “It is our belief that this administrative order subverts the rule making authority of the Alabama Supreme Court by eliminating bail and removing the discretion granted to our judges and/or magistrates …”

Bailey also said the order harms public safety because it would require the immediate release of defendants charged with a host of serious crimes, including “…child abuse, burglary in the third degree, chemical endangerment of a child, arson in the third degree, school employee having sexual contact with a student under the age of 19 years, unlawful imprisonment… and possession of child pornography — just to name a few.”

Bailey’s letter was also signed by Montgomery County Sheriff Derrick Cunningham, Montgomery Chief of Police Darryl Albert and Office of Prosecution Services Executive Director Barry Matson.

Hardwick has been a leader in a criminal justice reform group called Pretrial Alliance Montgomery, which has said it wants to protect public safety and the constitutional rights of defendants. The Montgomery group, formed in 2019, is a “research action site” of a national advocacy organization, Advancing Pretrial Policy and Research. It says about 490,000 people in the U.S. are held in jail before their trials every day, often because they can’t afford bail. Advancing Pretrial Policy and Research is supported by Arnold Ventures, a Houston-based LLC advocating for criminal justice, health and education reforms.

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