A bill addressing posting bond in municipal court cases received a favorable report on Tuesday from the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senate Bill 23 (SB23) is sponsored by State Sen. Tim Melson (R-Florence). Melson was ill on Tuesday, so his bill was handled in committee by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Tom Whatley (R-Auburn).

The legislation addresses how bail is handled by the municipal courts. Alabama has two levels of courts: the district and circuit courts at the county seats and the municipal court in most municipalities.

According to the synopsis: “Under existing law, a municipality may authorize a law enforcement officer to issue a summons and complaint in lieu of custodial arrest for certain criminal offenses. When a person is charged with an offense subject to the summons and complaint procedure and receives a summons and complaint, he or she may elect to appear before the court within the time specified in the summons and complaint and, upon entering a plea of guilty, pay the fine and associated court costs. In the alternative, the person may deposit the required bail, if any, enter a plea of not guilty, and be entitled to a trial.

“This bill would provide that when a person is required to post bail upon pleading not guilty, the bail may be any one of the four kinds approved in this state. Also under existing law, when a defendant fails to appear as specified in a summons and complaint, the court may issue a warrant for the defendant's arrest. This bill would provide a court may not order cash only bail for a defendant's initial failure to appear on the summons and complaint.”

Matt Clark is the President of the Alabama Center for Law and Liberty.

“In certain low-level criminal cases (such as misdemeanors, violations, or municipal ordinance violations), in lieu of arresting the defendant, a police officer can issue them a summons to appear in court on a certain day,” Clark said. “In those cases, if the defendant pleads not guilty and needs to post bail in order to stay out of jail, then this bill provides how it would be done.”

Clark went on to explain that there are, “four types of bail that are authorized under Alabama law. The first is cash bond bail, in which the defendant actually needs to provide the cash to the court in order to stay out of jail. The second is a judicial public bond bail, in which the judge lets the defendant sign a promise that he will show up for court and will not flee. The third is professional surety bond bail, which is when a bail bondsman signs a bond on behalf of the defendant. Finally, there's property bond bail, in which property owners provide their property as a surety for the defendant.”

“This bill would prohibit the judge from restricting the defendant only to cash bail. It seems that the object of this bill is to ensure that a judge can't send a poor person to jail for not being able to come up with cash as long as he could post bond through one of the three other ways,” Clark said. “I want to emphasize again that this bill would not abolish cash-only bail in all criminal cases but only in certain low-level cases where the defendant does not even need to be arrested in the first place.”

The bill received a favorable report from the committee. It now can be considered by the full state Senate. Tuesday was day three of the Alabama Regular Legislative Session. Gov. Kay Ivey (R) has ordered a special session to consider how to appropriate American Rescue Act dollars. Regular session legislation cannot be considered during the special session, thus it will be February before the Legislature can take up SB23 and other regular session bills.

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