Governor Kemp may force cash bail for misdemeanor offenses

UPDATE (5/4/21): Governor Kemp has signed SB 174 into law.

After ending cashless bail for many felony offenses last year, Governor Brian Kemp is currently deciding whether to go further by requiring cash bail for some misdemeanors as well.

Governor Brian Kemp
Governor Brian Kemp

SB 174, a bill passed by the Georgia General Assembly in the final days of the 2021 legislative session, would require cash bail for felony charges of burglary, entering auto and stalking. More importantly, it also requires cash bail for misdemeanor stalking as well as for all misdemeanor family violence offenses, a very broad category applying to a large number of cases each year.

According to Georgia code, “family violence” is defined as any violent act, unlawful restraint or trespassing happening between any persons living, or formerly living, in the same household. This means that families, couples or even roommates who get into a dispute could be forced to post cash bail lest they end up languishing behind bars until the date of their trial. It’s important to note that this cash bail requirement would apply to the innocent as well as to those eventually proven guilty. 

SB 174 could significantly expand jail populations among poor, black and brown communities who might not always be able to afford to bail themselves out. It might also have a chilling effect, making it less likely for those in these communities to call the police even when facing a serious problem.

The charges of stalking and family violence join a long list of bail-restricted offenses established just last year with SB 402, including murder, armed robbery and aggravated assault. 

Strangely, the list does not include some serious felony offenses such as terroristic threats. If Kemp signs SB 174 into law, he may be creating the absurd situation where calling to harass someone (potentially a form of stalking) could force you to post bail, but if you threaten to kill them during that same phone call, you could walk for free.

Republicans are rolling back their own criminal justice reforms

It seems likely that such loopholes would not exist in the law for long as Governor Kemp and the Georgia Republican party continue their rollback of former Governor Nathan Deal’s bail reform efforts. This area of law is changing at a rapid pace; indeed, SB 402 just went into effect in January and is still being processed by local courts. A few months later, Georgia courts are facing yet another large change to their bail and bond system which will happen if Kemp signs SB 174 into law.

Former Governor Nathan Deal (R)
Photo by Jamelle Bouie (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Deal, a Republican, was praised by Republicans and Democrats alike for his successful criminal justice reform efforts, which concluded in 2018 with a bill requiring judges to consider the financial status of the accused when setting bail. Now, Georgia Republicans seem determined to overturn Deal’s accomplishments, a reversal that highlights the fractures spreading through the party during the Trump era.

Governor Kemp has until May 10 to decide whether to veto SB 174 or sign it into law, a deadline which applies to this bill and a number of other pieces of legislation. If he signs SB 174, he could be locking in a new, heightened era of mass incarceration in Georgia that may be difficult for Democrats to reverse even if they gain the governorship in 2022.

You may wish to contact the Governor regarding SB 174 as he decides whether to sign the bill into law. You can call the Governor’s office at (404) 656-1776. For information about other ways to get in touch, check out the Governor’s website.

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