Father of baby born in Macomb County Jail supports lawsuit for defendants who can't afford bail

ACLU says demand for bail in minor offenses is unfair to poor people

MACOMB COUNTY, Mich. – The justice system was built to assume people are innocent until proven guilty, but thousands of Metro Detroiters who have been arrested but haven't been convicted may not see it that way.

A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union claims people who can't afford bail are being treated unfairly, and going to jail can have many unintended negative consequences.

The ACLU's case has a new supporter in Tom Chastine, whose son was born on the on the floor of a Macomb County Jail cell because the mother couldn't afford bail.

Jessica Preston was pulled over on suspicion of driving with a suspended license and went to jail after she was unable to pay the bail set by a judge.

While behind bars, Preston went into labor and had her son, Elijah, on the floor of the cell.

Chastine said that incident has had a lasting impact on the family.

"She doesn't sleep at all because of it," Chastine said. "She had night terrors, nightmares."

ACLU officials said it's not fair that people with money can go home for minor offenses while poor people have to stay in jail. The lawsuit is trying to address that issue.

"We're filing a lawsuit to end the shameful and unconstitutional practice of locking people up because they're poor, specifically too poor to pay bail," said Dan Korobkin, the legal director at the ACLU of Michigan.

ACLU officials said Michigan is wrong to demand bail before people are convicted, insisting bail is to protect the community and make sure the person charged returns to court. In most cases, bail is unnecessary, they said.

"People who don't have money stay locked up," Korobkin said. "That's unequal treatment. It's morally wrong and it's unconstitutional. We need to put a stop to it."

The inability to pay bail can lead to additional financial crises, the loss of a job or home and the loss of custody for parents. But most judges insist on bail, so people who can't pay go to jail.

"It costs over $165 a night to put someone up in jail every day," Korobkin said. "We're talking about every night, thousands and thousands of dollars."

In many cases, the people charged don't have attorneys.

"A basic premise of our constitutional system is that you shouldn't be sent to jail if you don't even have an attorney to represent you, to help advocate for your cause," Korobkin said. "That happens every day here, and that's why we're filing a lawsuit to put an end to it."

The lawsuit is intended to send a message to judges across Michigan that in most cases, bail isn't necessary.

"In Washington D.C., 90% of people who are charged with crimes are released immediately, and almost all of those situations end up being perfectly fine," Korobkin said.

Chastine said he hopes the lawsuit is successful so only potentially dangerous defendants are locked up before trials.

"It was uncalled for, irresponsible from somebody that works for our judicial system, and that is just unacceptable to me if you're a judge," Chastine said.

Preston has her own lawsuit pending in federal court against the medical company that she says did not send her to the hospital. The couple said they will support the ACLU in every way possible to try to stop the practice of jailing defendants who can't afford bail.

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