Kentucky Public Defenders Petition Supreme Court for Bail Reform

FRANKFORT, Ky. —The Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy has asked the Kentucky Supreme Court to eliminate the cash bond system.

In a 39-page petition, Public Advocate Damon L. Preston, Deputy Public Advocacy B. Scott West and Post-Trial Division Director Timothy G. Arnold ask on behalf of 10 named clients to establish clear constitutional rules for pretrial release and eliminate the cash bond system.

“Kentucky’s system of pretrial release is badly broken. Almost all jurisdictions impose money bail even in cases involving minor offenses, and that money bail often effectively denies the defendant the presumption of innocence. What’s worse, the application of this money bail practice varies wildly across Kentucky, such that the county which prosecutes the defendant may have a significant impact in whether the defendant remains incarcerated,” the petition reads. 

In the petition, they argue the Kentucky and United States Constitution prohibits excessive bail, however many defendants are forced to stay in jail as a result of bails being set. While it is unusual to go straight to the Supreme Court for a matter, DPA argues the current pretrial system is violating due process and equal protection under the law and must be addressed.

 “Litigators have been attempting to get a review of these issues for many years, but the appellate process has proven to be poorly suited to address issues of pretrial release. The Supreme Court has the constitutional authority to act on matters which will bring the entire Court of Justice into alignment,” said Post-Trial Division Director Tim Arnold. “In the area of pretrial release, the court system is badly out of alignment from county to county and with constitutional requirements. Only the Supreme Court can restore the bail system to what it was intended to be.”

Lawmakers in Frankfort have debated bail reform for many years but have been unable to pass legislation to modify the bail system, DPA says they cannot wait on the General Assembly any longer.

“Kentucky’s jails are overflowing. Many clients, presumed innocent, are sleeping on a concrete floor in a jail cell waiting for their day in court,” said Public Advocate Damon Preston. “They’re there because they’ve simply been accused of a crime and do not have enough money to buy their freedom. We’ve talked about bail reform without action for too long. Something has to be done now.”

Of the ten clients named in the petition, five are currently being held in jail as a result of the inability to pay their cash bond.