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ACLU and Denver Settle Case of Man Held in Jail Over a $50 fee

December 20, 2018

DENVER — ACLU of Colorado and Denver announced a resolution this morning of Mickey Howard’s lawsuit against the City for jailing him for 4 additional days after a court ordered his release on bond because he could not pay Denver’s additional $50 “bond fee.” Denver has made substantial policy changes and agreed to pay a meaningful monetary payment to Mr. Howard for damages and attorneys’ fees.[1]

According to the ACLU lawsuit, when Mr. Howard entered the jail, he had $64, which was enough to pay a $10 bond set by the court, as well as an additional $50 bond fee. At the time of booking, however, Denver took another $30 from Mr. Howard to pay Denver’s inmate “booking fee.” That left Mr. Howard with only $34, which was not enough to secure his release. The ACLU lawsuit identified two Denver policies that caused Mr. Howard’s unlawful detention: (1) requiring defendants to pay a $50 bond fee, in addition to the monetary bond set by the court, in order to gain their release; and (2) taking $30 from defendants at booking even when doing so would make them unable to post bond and/or pay the bond fee.

Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, Denver stopped collecting the $30 booking fee and the $50 bond fee. Although the underlying criminal case against Mr. Howard was dismissed, he was left with over $500 in pretrial services fees for electronic monitoring. On December 1, 2018, Denver eliminated fees charged to individuals who are required to submit to electronic monitoring as a condition of their pretrial release.”

Statement of ACLU of Colorado Staff Attorney & Senior Policy Counsel Rebecca Wallace

“The ACLU of Colorado commends Denver for its prompt and just resolution of this case. Within days of this case being filed, Denver ended the practices that had caused Mr. Howard’s detention. But Denver went far beyond making policy changes to ensure pretrial defendants were not imprisoned for inability to pay fees. Reflecting a true commitment to both pretrial and economic justice, Denver chose to take the truly momentous step of ending the practice of collecting booking and bond fees altogether. In doing so, Denver is a model across the state and country for smart and fair pretrial reform.

Other sheriffs in Colorado continue to collect these fees from legally innocent people who have only been accused of a crime. Many, like Mr. Howard, will see their case dismissed and most have extremely limited resources. The $30 booking fee, which many sheriffs take from whatever money even the poorest defendants have in their pocket at booking, can result in defendants with low money bonds remaining incarcerated because they are unable to afford their release. This practice has a name—it is called debtors’ prison. It is cruel, unconstitutional and un-American to imprison defendants because they can’t afford to make a monetary payment, but it happens every day in our system of pretrial injustice. It needs to change, and the ACLU will continue to work through the courts and the legislature to change it.

The ACLU also wants to recognize the life-changing advocacy of Elisabeth Epps and the Colorado Freedom Fund. Without their work to get people out of jail and challenge the system that puts and keeps them there, we would not have found Mickey Howard.

Statement of Mickey Howard

“I started this case to get justice and make change. Nobody should be stuck behind bars just because they cannot pay. With the ACLU’s help, we have made lasting change, and that makes me proud.”

Statement of Denver

“Denver is committed to just, equitable, and meaningful criminal justice reform. Denver’s decision to eliminate its $50 bond fee, $30 booking fee and pretrial electronic monitoring fees are our next steps in common sense criminal justice reform.”

“Denver looks forward to working with our partners at the ACLU to continue to identify areas of potential reform while maintaining a safe community for all of Denver.”

Read the ACLU complaint:

[1] Mr. Howard has requested that the amount of the monetary payment be kept confidential.

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