On March 12, 2019, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and the law firm of Arnold & Porter filed a lawsuit demanding an end to illegal bail practices in Philadelphia. The suit asks that Philadelphia arraignment court magistrates follow the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure when setting bail. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund, the Youth Art & Self Empowerment Project and ten individuals currently incarcerated on cash bail they cannot afford.
The Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure were created to protect the presumption of innocence, encourage pretrial release without cash bail and limit pretrial detention. ACLU-PA volunteers have observed more than 2,000 arraignment hearings, and one thing is clear: the arraignment court magistrates aren’t following their own rules when it comes to setting bail.
This lawsuit aimed to ensure fair treatment of all individuals in Philadelphia arraignment hearings based on the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure, regardless of how much money they have.
In July of 2020, the state Supreme Court reaffirmed the law regarding the use of cash bail and set out a number of recommendations for the First Judicial District to ensure that it remains within the bounds of the law when setting cash bail.