FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Excessive Bail isn’t Meant to Enable the Holding of Political Prisoners

The US Constitution’s Eighth Amendment forbids “excessive bail” in criminal prosecutions. That prohibition seems somewhat vague. I guess we’re just expected to know excessive bail when we see it. Two current cases demonstrate not just excessive bail, but abuse of the whole idea of bail for the purpose of holding un-convicted defendants as political prisoners.

In August, podcaster Christopher Cantwell of Keene, New Hampshire traveled to Charlottesville, Virginia to join his fellow white nationalists in a violent race riot. Cantwell ended up as the central figure in a Vice documentary on the event — and under arrest for felony assault.

Cantwell’s bail was initially set at $25,000, but on appeal from the prosecutor it was revoked entirely and Cantwell was slapped into solitary confinement (“protective custody”) at the Albemarle County jail until his trial, scheduled for November. Why the sudden turnabout? The prosecutor claimed that Cantwell a) was a flight risk, and b) had evil political views.

Cantwell was clearly not a flight risk. He turned himself in on demand, having stayed in Virginia and in touch with police in anticipation of doing so once he heard rumors of a warrant for his arrest. And Cantwell’s political views should under no circumstances have been treated as relevant to bail. The purpose of bail is to incentivize a defendant to appear at trial, full stop.

Meanwhile in Georgia, Reality Leigh Winner languishes in the Lincoln County jail, also denied bail since her June arrest for “removing classified material from a government facility and mailing it to a news outlet.”

The initial bail denial was premised on the possibility that she might have taken, and might disclose, more classified information. But in a second bail hearing, as in Cantwell’s case, the judge’s denial of bail was obviously conditioned solely on the content of Winner’s supposed political beliefs.

Winner was not a significant flight risk. She had no criminal record, her passport had been confiscated, and her mother had offered to move to Georgia to act as her pre-trial custodian. The prosecutor’s only real argument for denying bail was the claim that Winner’s admitted admiration for fellow whistle-blowers Edward Snowden and Julian Assange indicated “contempt for our country and our security.” The judge bought that argument.

Again: The sole legitimate purpose of bail is to ensure that the defendant shows up for trial so as to not forfeit some significant amount of money or property.

Conditioning bail on the defendant’s political beliefs — or, worse, denying it entirely over those beliefs — is by definition “excessive.” Judges who commit such violations of the Eighth Amendment in particular and of due process in general should be removed from the bench — and possibly given a taste of confinement themselves.

More articles by:

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
Jasmine Aguilera
Lessons From South of the Border
Manuel García, Jr.
A Formula for U.S. Election Outcomes
Sam Pizzigati
Drug Company Execs Make Millions Misleading Cancer Patients. Here’s One Way to Stop Them
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Agriculture as Wrong Turn
James McEnteer
And That’s The Way It Is: Essential Journalism Books of 2018
Chris Gilbert
Biplav’s Communist Party of Nepal on the Move: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian
Judith Deutsch
Siloed Thinking, Climate, and Disposable People: COP 24 and Our Discontent
Jill Richardson
Republicans Don’t Want Your Vote to Count
John Feffer
‘Get Me Outta Here’: Trump Turns the G20 into the G19
Domenica Ghanem
Is Bush’s Legacy Really Much Different Than Trump’s?
Peter Certo
Let Us Argue Over Dead Presidents
Christopher Brauchli
Concentration Camps From Here to China
ANIS SHIVANI
The Progress of Fascism Over the Last Twenty Years
Steve Klinger
A Requiem for Donald Trump
Al Ronzoni
New Deals, From FDR’s to the Greens’
Gerald Scorse
America’s Rigged Tax Collection System
Louis Proyect
Praying the Gay Away
Rev. Theodore H. Lockhart
A Homily: the Lord Has a Controversy With His People?
David Yearsley
Bush Obsequies
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail