ACLU sues Detroit district court over cash bail system
Detroit — Seventeen-year-old Kushawn Moore Jr. is in jail charged with armed robbery while he waits to see if he stands trial.
A 36th District Court magistrate last week ordered the Detroit teen held at the jail on a $50,000 bond — something he and his family say neither of them can afford to pay to get him out.
His stepmother, Deleda Moore, said Monday the teenager is depressed, worried and doesn't understand why he can't come home.
"I've tried to explain that he can't come home because we can't afford to pay for him to come home," she said. "He's never been in trouble a day in his life at all. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but it's like he's already been convicted."
Deleda Moore made the remarks during a news conference held by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan at its office in Detroit. She was joined by her husband and Kushawn's father, Kaushawn Moore Sr., and the organization's staff and others.
Her comments come a day after the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit against magistrates who preside over arraignments at Detroit's 36th District Court, claiming the bail system punishes the poor and minorities.
Defendants in the lawsuit include the court's chief judge, Nancy M. Blount, and the five magistrates who set bail at arraignments. Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon is also named in the lawsuit for overseeing jails where people who can't afford bond are detained.
Officials with the ACLU said the suit seeks to reform the cash bail system. The group has partnered with the Covington & Burling LLP law firm filed the class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court on behalf of seven plaintiffs.
"We're calling for a complete overhaul of our cash bail system in Michigan," said Dan Korobkin, deputy legal director for the ACLU of Michigan. "It's shameful and unconstitutional. Basically, it's locking people up in jail because they are poor and can't afford to pay bail."
He said even though the legal system assumes a defendant is innocent until proven guilty, only people who have money are allowed to get out of jail before their trials start under the cash bail system.
"So people with money are immediately allowed to buy their way out of jail but someone without financial resources stays locked up," Korobkin said. "This two-tier system is cruel, unfair and unconstitutional."
The ACLU also argues the inability to afford secured cash bail conditions falls disproportionately on communities of color.
Aaron Lewis, an attorney with Covington & Burling's Los Angeles office and the co-lead counsel with the ACLU's staff on the case, said the firm has a long history of taking pro bono cases in the public's interest and it is honored to be working with the ACLU on the matter.
"What is happening in the 36th District Court is breaking up families, causing people to lose their jobs, their homes," he said. "Quite simply: It's destroying lives. Poor people are targets of this broken system. Everyone is entitled to a fair and just legal system, and we're here to see that they get it."
A spokeswoman for the Wayne County Sheriff's Office said the agency does not comment on matters of civil litigation in which it is a named party.
Moore Jr. is being held at the Andrew C. Baird Detention Facility on Clinton Street in downtown Detroit, according to the sheriff's office. His next court date is scheduled for April 24.
In a testimonial wrote to the ACLU, Moore said he has no prior criminal record, is in the 11th grade with a 2.9 grade point average and has a baby on the way. He also said police arrested him at his father's home on the city's east side last week Wednesday.
"I cannot afford to pay the bond because I don't have a job," he wrote. "My parents cannot afford to pay $50,000 for my bond."
Deleda Moore said her husband is on disability and her job doesn't pay her enough to cover her stepson's bail.
She said she also understands the ACLU's lawsuit may not be decided in time to help her stepson. But she said she tells him to pray.
"I just tell him to keep his head up and pray," she said.