The Pulse

Lawmakers file bill to eliminate cash bail for NC’s lowest-level crimes

By: - March 8, 2023 6:45 am
House Bill 271 would reform North Carolina’s cash bail system. (File photo).

Democratic legislators from some of the state’s biggest counties — and busiest courthouses — have filed a bill that would prohibit judges from imposing cash bail on a person charged with one or more Class 3 misdemeanors.

Class 3 misdemeanors are the least serious types of misdemeanors in North Carolina, punishable by up to 20 days in jail and a $200 fine. Examples include shoplifting, possession of less than .02 ounces of marijuana and driving with a revoked license. Those without any prior convictions probably won’t even see the inside of a jail cell after conviction.

But they could stay locked up without having been convicted of anything if they don’t have the money to bond out, or if a judge refuses to let them walk out without having to post any money. The money bail system, in North Carolina and across the country, can keep people jailed pretrial because they don’t have the money to post bail themselves or enlist the services of a bondsman.

Policy Watch has written about this paradox presented by the money bail system: people are unable to work because they are in jail, but they can’t get out of jail because they don’t have the money to go home.

“I’m gonna get fired if I don’t get out soon,” one man told a judge in Wake County on a video feed from jail last October. The judge kept his bond at $2,000 and told the man that if he didn’t have the money to post bail, he’d stay locked up at least until his next court date on Nov. 2 .

The bill before the legislature would make a modest reform to the system, but only for those charged with the least serious crimes — and likely held on the lowest bond amounts. It would amend state law to restrict judges from imposing cash bail as a condition of a person’s release from jail.

The proposal’s primary sponsors are Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham), Rep. Vernetta Alston (D-Durham), Rep. Abe Jones (D-Wake), and Rep. Joe John (D-Wake).

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Kelan Lyons
Kelan Lyons

Investigative Reporter Kelan Lyons writes about criminal and civil justice, including high-profile litigation, prison and jail conditions, housing, and the challenges people face when they leave prison.