The MacArthur Justice Center is pursuing a federal class action lawsuit against Orleans Magistrate Judge Harry E. Cantrell challenging his practice of setting high bail amounts without any consideration of the person’s ability to pay or alternative no-cost conditions of release. Judge Cantrell consistently sets a $2,500 minimum secured money bond, regardless of the facts of the particular case or the circumstances surrounding the arrestee. He also refuses to entertain arguments for a lower financial condition of release, informing defense attorneys not to even attempt them.
The suit also calls out Judge Cantrell’s repeated insistence on using commercial bond companies over cash payments during bond proceedings. A cash payment would be refunded at the conclusion of the defendant’s case. A commercial bail company, however, requires a non-reimbursable fee, a portion of which goes to the court’s General Fund – revenue Cantrell and other judges’ control.
In August 2019, we had a major win in the Fifth Circuit, which upheld the District Court’s common-sense opinion that it is unconstitutional for a court that sets bail to rely on bail fees to fund its own existence.
Cantrell’s petitions for rehearing by panel and en banc denied.
The Fifth Circuit upheld the District Court’s opinion that it is unconstitutional for a court that sets bail to rely on bail fees to fund its own existence.
Agreement details protocol that Magistrate Cantrell must follow in every bail, including: considering release on recognizance and nonfinancial conditions of release, conducting an inquiry into an arrestee’s ability to afford money bail, and, if an unaffordable bail amount in set, making findings supported by clear and convincing evidence that the arrestee’s detention is necessary to guard against flight from prosecution or ensure community safety.
Despite earlier federal court ruling, Magistrate Cantrell has not changed his bail practices. Magistrate Cantrell fails to: inquire about arrestee’s ability pay, consider alternatives to money bail or ensure arrestees are represented by counsel.
Magistrate Cantrell will now have to change his practices to meet the minimum Constitutional standards outlined by the Federal Court.
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, alleges Judge Cantrell has consistently violated the constitutional rights of impoverished pre-trial arrestees by setting high bail amounts without any consideration of the person’s ability to pay or alternative no-cost conditions of release. The suit also raises concern with Cantrell’s repeated insistence on using commercial bond companies, over cash payments, of which a portion of the required non-refundable fee goes to the court’s General Fund.
Mr. Adrian Caliste, came before Judge Cantrell on allegations of committing nonviolent, misdemeanor crimes and traffic violations. Beyond asking if Mr. Caliste could afford a lawyer, which he could not, Judge Cantrell made no further attempt to learn anything about the plaintiff’s finances, including if would afford an $8,000 bail. Because Mr. Caliste can neither afford his bail nor the bail bonds fee, he remains in jail until he receives his next retirement benefit, and hopes that it could help secure his release.