HARRISBURG — In a ruling issued earlier this week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reaffirmed that the assignment of cash bail in Pennsylvania must be in accordance with state law but left in place practices by the Philadelphia magistrates who set bail that violate those principles. The court also asked the state court administrator and the Criminal Rules Committee to consider ordering reforms. The ruling is the result of a lawsuit filed by ten people who were detained pretrial in Philadelphia due to their inability to pay cash bail and by the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund and the Youth Art & Self-Empowerment Project. The lawsuit challenged the bail practices of the magistrates in Philadelphia’s First Judicial District. 

The order makes clear that judges who assign bail in violation of the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure can and should be held to account. 

The plaintiffs were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and the law firm Arnold & Porter LLP.

“District Attorney Krasner’s prosecutors regularly request bail amounts that they know people cannot pay, and they do that for the purpose of keeping a person in detention,” said Candace McKinley, lead organizer at the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund. “The Supreme Court has made clear that bail cannot be used to keep someone in jail. While it’s a missed opportunity for the court to leave enforcement of these rules up to the counties, this week’s decision nevertheless affirms that common practices like ordering million dollar bail for people who can’t afford it is clearly illegal.”

“We hoped for more from the state Supreme Court, but it is clearer than ever that courts have a responsibility to make sure they are complying with the law when assigning cash bail,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “A good next step in Philadelphia would be to expand early bail review so that people who cannot afford bail do not wait out their cases in jail.

“We will continue to monitor the actions of the magistrates and the district attorney in Philadelphia to ensure fairness and equity for all those who appear before the court.” 

More information about the order and the initial lawsuit can be found here.