U.S. District Judge Shelly D. Dick on Thursday granted a joint settlement and dismissal of a proposed class-action lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Ascension Parish bail procedures for poor defendants facing misdemeanor charges.
Under the approved settlement, filed Wednesday, no defendant can be held in Ascension Parish Prison on a monetary bail the person cannot afford.
Civil rights attorneys representing Rebecca M. Snow, 33, of Gonzales, filed suit in federal court in Baton Rouge claiming her constitutional rights to due process and equal protection were violated after she was held in jail in lieu of $579 bail she claimed she could not afford.
The suit claimed Snow and hundreds of other poor misdemeanor defendants were left with no options for release from the parish jail near Donaldsonville, while allowing those with the means to pay to leave jail promptly if they face minor counts.
The suit took aim at the application of a schedule that sets bail amounts for various misdemeanor charges.
Snow and the two named defendants in the suit, Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley and Ascension Parish Judge Marilyn Lambert, reached the settlement approved Thursday.
Gonzales police say they caught Snow shoplifting Aug. 24 at Wal-Mart, where she had previously been caught doing the same thing. She had been banned from the store.
Snow pleaded guilty in 2014 to a misdemeanor theft count in Livingston Parish and faced a variety of prior worthless check counts in that parish going back to 2007. She missed a trial date for some of those counts in October 2012, and an attachment for her arrest was issued, though it was later satisfied. The 2007 worthless check count was dismissed while others remain unresolved.
While Lambert and her attorneys with the state Attorney General’s Office have declined comment, Wiley, who runs the jail, has insisted he and Lambert followed the law.
But, under the settlement, most misdemeanor defendants will now be released on their own recognizance, or without any bail.
The settlement also carves out exceptions for 11 charges involving crimes of violence, resisting arrest or driving under the influence that would allow Lambert to review the cases and set bail.
But the bail amount must not be more than defendants can afford.
The settlement also allows Lambert to hold a hearing for defendants facing a misdemeanor domestic abuse battery charge to determine whether they should be held without bail.
Dick dismissed Snow’s lawsuit with prejudice Thursday, which means it can’t be raised again, but the judge also reserved the power to enforce the terms of the settlement.
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