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Traverse City District Court changes bail procedure after ACLU complaint

Max Johnston

The 86th District Court in Traverse City has changed their policy on third party bond payments. It comes after a letter sent Tuesday from The American Civil Liberties Union that accused the court of using an unconstitutional bail policy.

In a letter to the court and the Grand Traverse County Sheriff's Office, the ACLU says the court used bail payments from the family and friends of defendants to cover various court costs on their cases, which they say is unconstitutional.

"Confiscating an innocent third party’s cash bail payments to satisfy a defendant’s court debts violates Michigan state law as well as the equal protection, due process and excessive bail clauses of the U.S. and Michigan Constitutions," the letter reads. "This practice completely undermines the purpose of the cash bail system, which is to incentivize individuals to return to court and to limit pretrial detention to only exceptional cases."

Senior Attorney at the Michigan ACLU Phil Mayor says that policy prevented people from making bail payments, undermines the bail process and is unconstitutional.

"What we certainly shouldn’t be doing is funding the system off the backs of the family and friends of the people who are criminally accused, who have done nothing wrong," Mayor said.

The District Court sent their own letter to the ACLU Wendesay, saying they're changing the policy to be more in line with other Michigan courts.

"We have decided to update our procedure and to confer with the State Court Administrator's Office and that of other courts around the state," the letter read. 

Jason Razavi regularly serves as a court-appointed attorney at the 86th District Court and says reforms in bond and bail conditions are happening across the state.

"It does seem like bond and bail reform is coming, it's long overdue," Razavi said. "But it is a good thing to see that actions are being taken."

Max came to IPR in 2017 as an environmental intern. In 2018, he returned to the station as a reporter and quickly took on leadership roles as Interim News Director and eventually Assignment Editor. Before joining IPR, Max worked as a news director and reporter at Michigan State University's student radio station WDBM. In 2018, he reported on a Title IX dispute with MSU in his story "Prompt, Thorough and Impartial." His work has also been heard on Michigan Radio, WDBM and WKAR in East Lansing and NPR.