INDIANAPOLIS — The Bail Project is suing the state of Indiana saying a new law is “unconstitutional” and “discriminates.” 13 Investigates was able to review the lawsuit before it was filed by the ACLU of Indiana.
"We hope that the court will find that this is an unconstitutional law because we are the only folks that are singled out in this law,” said Twyla Carter the Bail Project’s National Director of Legal and Policy. “When again, the judge is who decides if a person can leave the jail or not. And if there's going to be $1 amount that's paid. It does not matter who goes in to pay that bail amount, and the last time we checked, we're using US currency like everyone else."
The 16-page lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court of Southern Indiana Wednesday morning and names the Commission of the Indiana Department of Insurance as the defendant. The Governor signed a bill into law in March that puts the commissioner in charge of regulating charitable bail organizations.
“This new law singles out charitable bail organizations in Indiana, which for all practical purposes means The Bail Project,” said Ken Falk, legal director of the ACLU of Indiana.
In the lawsuit, the ACLU argues Indiana’s law violates the group’s ability to “protest” the cash bail system. Falk says that’s a violation of the group’s First Amendment rights.
Supporters of the new law argued the Bail Project needed to be regulated like for profit bail bond companies. There were calls to regulate from the police union, lawmakers and victims' families after some clients committed violent crimes while out on bond.
However, the law went a step further than regulation. It also limited charitable bail organizations and only allowed them to assist with a cash bail. It also bans the Bail Project from posting bond for people accused of a "crime of violence." The restriction extends to Hoosiers previously convicted of a "crime of violence.”
"Other folks, grandmothers, churches, the bail bond industry, everyone else would still be able to operate unfettered,” Carter said.
For that reason, the ACLU argues the law is in violation of the "Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment."
The lawsuit also accuses the new law of being "vague and uncertain." It argues the law puts into question if the Bail Project's work in other states may bar it from helping Hoosiers. The lawsuit states, "there is nothing (in the law) that limits this restriction to the activities of a charitable bail organization in Indiana."
The national organization is asking the Court to determine the law is “unconstitutional” and asking for a preliminary injunction while the case moves through the legal process.
The hope is that will allow it to continue to operate in Indianapolis and Gary without facing these new restrictions. The Bail Project says its Indianapolis and Gary branches have helped more than 1,000 low-income Hoosiers and it has helped more than 22,000 people nationwide.