A recent hike in bail bond fees (among others) , which went into effect in late June under Alabama Act 2012-535, is being challenged in court, with arguments heard by a Circuit judge on Aug. 6.
Birmingham criminal defense lawyers know that these added fees were imposed with the intention of helping courts to fill funding gaps for the system’s clerks, prosecutors and sheriff’s deputies. But it’s also imposing high costs on people who haven’t even yet been convicted of a crime.
Plaintiffs in the civil case are seeking to block the law, though it has already been implemented in most courthouses throughout the state.
The measure imposes docket fees, and also affixes an automatic $35 charge for every single bail bond executed. In addition to that, it mandates a person who is bonding out of jail must pay the court an additional 3.5 percent of the bail amount, with misdemeanor fees capped at $450 and felonies capped at $750. This is in addition to the amount you already pay when you post your bond (or the fee that you are charged by a bail bond company that pays it for you).
It also increases court costs for traffic offenses by $26. Plus, civil cases in district and circuit courts will have an additional $45 docket fee, and small claims cases will have to pay an increased $15 docket fee. For criminal cases, the docket fee was increased by $40.
Supporters of the law contend that without this measure, about 500 courts employees throughout the state would have to be laid off next fiscal year, causing a bottleneck of cases that would impede quick resolutions for even simple matters.
The reason the bail bond fee in particular has been such an issue of contention is that the charge is imposed whether the person is ultimately found guilty of the crime or not. Other fees are waived if the person is ultimately found not guilty. The plaintiffs contend this violates Alabama’s Constitution with regard to due process.
A judge had previously dismissed a similar lawsuit, saying that the plaintiffs had improperly named the governor as a defendant. However, a new lawsuit that only names the governor as a respondent has been given the green light to move forward. Several bail bond companies have been named as plaintiffs.
It’s not clear how successful the suit will be, given that a number of other states have mandated similar fees, and they have been upheld as constitutional.
This is unfortunate considering that those who are most likely to be harmed by this measure are those who are at or below the poverty line who have already been accused of a crime and are scrambling to pull together resources to defend themselves.
The argument is also being made that the measure is a violation of the constitution in that it restricts an individual’s absolute right to bail and the prohibition against excessive fines.
Bail bond companies may pay those fees upfront, but ultimately, it will fall back on the accused to foot the bill.