Dixon v. City of St. Louis

Court: U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Missouri
Case Number: No. 4:19-cv-0112-AGF
Decision Date: June 11, 2019
Case Type: Municipal Courts
Dixon and others were detained in St. Louis jails after arrest. When a person is arrested in St. Louis a bond commissioner employed by the city makes a recommendation to a judge to set bond to secure the arrestee’s court appearance. In making the recommendation, the commissioner considers the charges and prior convictions but does not inquire into the arrestee’s ability to pay, risk of flight, or danger to the public. If the arrestee can afford to pay the cash bond then they will be released upon payment but if not, they will remain detained until their first appearance which is required to be held within 48 hours of arrest. Dixon and other plaintiffs alleged that they were instructed by deputies not to speak and not request a bond modification. The plaintiffs also alleged that if they attempt to contest the bail amount with the judge then the judge informs them that they cannot request a modification without counsel and then the judge would set a motion hearing. Furthermore, the plaintiffs alleged that if they had a public defender that process could take five weeks and if they could not obtain an attorney it could take even longer. 
The federal court held that there was ample evidence in the record that showed the judge presiding over initial appearances did not take into account an arrestee’s financial situation because the bond commissioner did not provide such information and the arrestees were instructed by deputies not to speak. The court granted a class certification to the plaintiffs which would consist of all arrestees who are or will be detained by the city because they are unable to afford to pay a monetary release condition. The court also denied the city’s motion to dismiss and held that the jail commissioner was enjoined from enforcing any monetary condition of release which resulted in the detention of arrestees solely for inability to pay unless there was a finding that the detention was necessary because there were no less restrictive alternatives to assure the arrestee’s appearance or to protect the public safety.