Philadelphia Community Bail Fund v. Arraignment Court Magistrates
Juvenile Law Center, Youth Sentencing and Reentry Project, National Juvenile Defender Center, and Juvenile Defenders Association of Pennsylvania filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in support of a Complaint and Petition for Writ of Mandamus filed on behalf of The Philadelphia Community Bail Fund, The Youth Art & Self-Empowerment Project, and individuals held on bail in Philadelphia.
Amici urged the Court to grant the Application for Leave to File Original Process to permit proceedings on the Petition for a Writ of Mandamus to ensure fair treatment and necessary protections for vulnerable youth. Specifically, amici underscored the grave risks that youth face in Philadelphia’s bail proceedings and argued that the proceedings are inappropriate for youth because adolescents as a class cannot afford bail. In addition to being too young to legally work, youth also lack the experience, legal knowledge, and literacy levels to participate effectively in bail proceedings. Amici argued that the resulting deprivation of liberty imposes unique harms on youth, who are at a heightened risk of pleading guilty to avoid adult jail.
In July of 2019, the Court granted the Application for Leave to File original Process, denied mandamus relief, and invoked its King’s Bench jurisdiction appointing a special master to conduct an inquiry limited to Petitioners’ allegations regarding systemic failures of the First Judicial District to properly conduct cash-bail matters. The Report of the Special Master was filed in December of 2019.
Juvenile Law Center filed an amicus brief in January of 2020 urging the Court to adopt the recommendations of the Special Master’s Report and take the additional step to add a presumption of indigence for youth in Philadelphia’s bail system. We argued that given youths’ general inability to pay bail, the risk of coerced guilty pleas, and the heightened danger of pretrial detention for youth, youth should receive a presumption of indigence to secure pretrial release.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reaffirmed that bail determinations are to be made in accordance with existing law which requires that bail amounts be reasonable, the bail authority consider a defendant’s ability to pay in setting cash bail, and forbids the use of bail "for the sole purpose of ensuring that a defendant remains incarcerated until trail.” The court further instructed that the Court Administrator, Chairs of the Criminal procedural Rules Committee, the Minor Court Rules Committee, and the Juvenile Court Procedural Rules Committee to review and consider an enumerated list of proposals, advanced by the Special Master, parties, and amici, that the court determined warrant further consideration. Included on the list is Juvenile Law Center’s proposal that juveniles be presumed indigent for purposes of setting bail.