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All bail is excessive. Update the 8th Amendment

The People's Movement Towrad DemocracyIn 1975, war resister and activist Dave Dellinger1 wrote:

"During World War II, when I was awaiting trial as a draft resister, I was so shocked by the plight of the men in Hudson County (New Jersey) jail who had been confined for months for lack of bail that I refused to allow friends to post bail for me. After a few weeks, my wife managed to get through to the judge and arouse his interest in the case. He asked for a probation report and a week later issued an order for me to be released on my own recognizance. I was grateful for this humane gesture on the judge's part, but knew that the men who remained in prison in default of bail deserved to be freed as much or more than I did. So far as I know, the judge did nothing to condemn the bail system or free anyone else. His action reflected the dilemma of men who respond humanely when their eyes are opened to the distress of a specific individual (particularly one whose class background or humble attitude, in the case of a poor man, facilitates communication) but are inhibited by their job and conditioning in an unjust society from coming to grips with the social patterns that they help preserve.

  Thirty-four years after this incident, the bail system is still in force. There have been some attempted minor reforms, which have helped hundreds, perhaps thousands, of defendants. But none of this has come to grips with the oppressive institution itself. At best they attempt to calm public uneasiness resulting from periodic exposure of the system's most flagrant abuses. they attempt to do this by bringinging up to date the Eighth Amendment, which declares that "Excessive bail shall not be required." But all bail is excessive. pragmatically, any bail is excessive for at least 90 per cent of the people who come before the courts. Philosophically, there is no principle of democracy or humanity whereby the amount of money a person can commandeer should decide whether or not she of he should be in jail."

1 David Dellinger, More Power Than We Know: The People's Movement Toward Democracy (New York: Anchor Press, 1975) 279.

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