Monday, September 25, 2023
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Judge Rejects Request to Release S.F. Detainees

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A federal judge refused to release pre-trial detainees at San Francisco's County Jail being held because they cannot afford to post bail.

The request for a temporary restraining order to end the practice of bail stemmed from a class action lawsuit filed Wednesday claiming that the city unconstitutionally detains the poor because they cannot afford to pay an arbitrary bail amount, while allowing wealthier arrestees to buy their freedom.

Gonzalez Rogers was asked to immediately release without bail a large number of detainees from pre-trial custody.

"The result of defendants' current policies is that the pretrial detainees are those who are so poor and destitute that they do not even know anyone who can come up with the money to free them. Plaintiffs and other class members are therefore languishing in jail solely because they and their families do not have enough money to buy their release," the motion says. "Plaintiffs ask this court to enjoin defendants, pending a final resolution of this case on the merits, from keeping them in jail because they cannot afford to pay cash up front to secure their release."

In denying the motion Friday, Gonzalez Rogers wrote, "While the court takes no position on the underlying merits of the claims, plaintiffs have failed to establish at this juncture that a temporary restraining order is in the public interest and granting it as requested would constitute a significant departure from the status quo," U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers wrote in a three-page order issued late Friday.

The class action is led by two women arrested earlier this week- Riana Buffin,19, and Crystal Patterson, 29. Both are now out of jail as respective charges of grand theft and assault were dropped, but they each spent several days behind bars because neither could afford bail. Buffin's bond was set at $30,000; Patterson's at $150,000.

On Thursday, attorney Phil Telfeyan with the Washington, D.C.-based Equal Justice Under the Law told reporters, "Nobody should be detained because they're too poor to pay an arbitrary amount of money." His group has successfully brought lawsuits to end the practice of money bail in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Missouri.

Telfeyan's legal effort is backed by the city public defender and San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi.

Noting that Buffin and Patterson had already been released, Gonzalez Rogers said that pending a response from the city and county of San Francisco, "the equities favor maintaining the status quo."

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