Feds say courts’ bail-or-jail policies are unfair to poor

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ATLANTA — Federal attorneys say local courts that jail poor defendants because they can’t afford to pay bail are unlawfully discriminating against the poor.

The U.S. Justice Department brief was filed Thursday with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the lawsuit of a north Georgia man. Fifty-four-year-old Maurice Walker spent six days in the Calhoun jail because he couldn’t afford $160 bail following his arrest on a misdemeanor charge.

Federal lawyers argue that such policies “unlawfully discriminate” against poor defendants by using preset bail amounts that don’t take into account the accused person’s ability to pay.

The department said it’s the first time it has weighed in with a legal opinion in federal court on bail systems used by state and local courts.

In their own legal filings, attorneys for Calhoun have defended the city’s bail practices.