Bail Reform for Low Level Offenders in Alabama

Bail is the temporary release of an accused person who is awaiting trial. Most often, bail is conditioned upon paying a sum of money or pledging a piece of property (for example, a house for a particularly high bail) in return for the person’s release.

However, there have been criticisms to the bail system in Alabama. People argue that the current system keeps low-level defendants in jail simply because they lack the money to make bail. This, in turn, contributes to the overcrowded jail populations plaguing Alabama.

Alabama State Senator Greg Albritton has sponsored a bill which would require municipal judges to release defendants who are charged with low-level violations. Under the bill, the judges would be required to be released either on personal recognizance or an unsecured appearance bond. Personal recognizance means no bail at all; an unsecured appearance bond is a written promise to pay if that offender fails to show up for his court date.

Since December 2017, there have been 78 cities in Alabama that have reformed their bail practices. The judges in these cities have done exactly what the bill proposes – released defendants charged with low-level offenses to be released on unsecured bonds or released on personal recognizance.

It is important to note what type of offenders would be affected by this bill, if passed. Low-level offenses are non-violent misdemeanors. They include loitering, disorderly conduct, no pistol permit, and traffic violations. Traffic violations for clients who cannot meet bail constitute a large portion of municipal jail populations, a problem which the state legislature would like to address.

People charged with violent offenses, alcohol offenses, or other crimes like reckless endangerment or menacing would not be considered low-level offenders under this bill.

The result? Cities that used similar tactics saw significant reductions in their jail populations. The City of Birmingham saw a 54% reduction in jail population from June 2016 to present. Huntsville’s city jail population dropped from an average of 184 inmate to 133 inmates within a year. Montgomery, Hoover, Dothan, and Decatur also saw reductions in jail inmate populations.

Aside from the obvious benefits of a less crowded jail, clearing the jails gives the courts and law enforcement more resources to deal with the explosion of opioid and other substance abuse issues that affect Alabama as much as anywhere else in the county.

Another problem is that without this bill, many offenders who cannot afford bail spend so much time in jail that by the time they get to their court date, there is no sentence to be implement. They receive a “time served” sentence for all the weeks they have already spent in jail.

The proposed bill would codify the changes made by each city into one uniform state law. Unfortunately, according to Sen. Albritton, the bill seems to have stalled for the time being, meaning that the reforms will only continue on a city-by-city basis.

If you are charged in municipal court with a DUI or a drug charge, contact Ingram Law LLC at (205) 236-3997 We represent individuals in Homewood, Hoover, Mt. Brook, Gardendale, Fultondale, Trussville and all other munucipal courts in Alabama.

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