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Federal judge dismisses three claims in ongoing class action suit over county’s bail policy

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A federal judge has dismissed three of the five claims that had been the basis of a long-running and ongoing class-action suit against Alamance County judicial officials and Alamance County sheriff Terry Johnson, claiming that the county’s bail policy – adopted in 1995 and overhauled in 2020 – had deprived poor defendants of their constitutional rights.

U.S. District Court judge Thomas D. Schroeder recently dismissed three of five counts outlined in the suit, filed in November 2019 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District, based on an order that has been filed in federal court.

The Alamance County defendants included each of the county’s judges and magistrates, as well as sheriff Johnson. (Neither Johnson nor any other sheriff in North Carolina is responsible for setting bail. That function is performed by a judge or a magistrate following an arrest, depending upon the nature of the offense.)

The defendants, along with numerous other Alamance County judicial officials and the plaintiffs’ attorneys, rewrote the county’s bail policy in 2020 to remedy the deficiencies outlined in the class-action suit.

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Schroeder dismissed three of the claims – declaring them moot, “given that the county abandoned its 1995 policy for bail determinations over three years ago in favor of a substantially different policy that provides all the relief Plaintiffs request,” his order states.

The county’s new bond policy took effect in July 2020 and requires defendants to be released from jail on the least restrictive conditions possible. The new policy also requires each defendant to have a bail hearing to determine his or her ability to pay a secured, or cash, bond as a condition for release from jail pending trial.

The plaintiffs had claimed that the defendants violated their rights under the 14th Amendment by failing to consider “any detainee’s likelihood to appear or whether that individual poses any danger to the community, and by making no findings regarding the necessity of detention before requiring unaffordable monetary conditions of release,” i.e., requiring defendants booked at the jail on certain offenses to post a secured bond in order to be released prior to trial.

The new bond policy the county adopted in 2020 now requires a judge to make findings demonstrating the necessity of keeping a defendant in jail while awaiting trial.
The federal judge denied a fourth claim without prejudice, leaving open the door for

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