LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A ruling that defendants can be required to pay their bail in cash drew objections Thursday from Arkansas' Supreme Court chief justice, who cited a man who had strong opinions about the legal system: Johnny Cash.
Interim Chief Justice Howard Brill cited Cash's song "Starkville City Jail" in a dissent, saying the court's majority was wrong to deny a defendant's objection to a $300,000 cash-only bail in an aggravated assault and domestic battery case.
"After being arrested for trespassing and picking flowers, Johnny Cash spent the night in the Starkville City Jail," Brill wrote. "His ballad suggests he was not taken before a magistrate or given the opportunity to be released on bail."
Ramon Trujillo's attorney had argued that the state constitution requires defendants be allowed to post a bond rather than be required to pay the bail amount in cash. Trujillo was arrested last year on charges he abused his pregnant girlfriend and her son. His bail was initially set at $25,000, which was raised to $300,000 cash-only after prosecutors said Trujillo had violated a no-contact order.
In a 5-2 ruling, the court dismissed Trujillo's argument that the lower court erred in requiring cash-only bail.
"The purpose of bail in Arkansas is to ensure the presence of the defendant, and cash-only does not restrict a defendant's constitutional rights pending trial," Justice Karen Baker wrote for the court's majority.
Doug Norwood, Trujillo's attorney, said he was disappointed with the ruling and planned to ask the court for a rehearing. Trujillo pleaded guilty last year and is serving a 10-year sentence.
"Rarely would you have a defendant who has that kind of money" in cash, he said.
Brill, who was appointed last year to serve the remainder of the late Chief Justice Jim Hannah's term, devoted the first page of his dissent to the song by Cash recounting his 1965 public drunkenness arrest in Starkville, Mississippi. In the song, the country legend complains to a police sergeant after he's put in a jail cell: "Come back here, you so and so; I ain't bein' treated right."
Cash, who died in 2003, was born in Arkansas. Brill, who's on leave as a law professor at the University of Arkansas, has offered continuing legal education seminars on "Lessons in the Law from the Life and Music of Johnny Cash."
In his dissent, Brill acknowledged that cash-only bail may have advantages, but expressed concern it could be used punitively in larger amounts.
"Requiring cash-only for bail strips a person of his constitutional right to provide any sufficient surety for his release," he wrote.
Justice Jo Hart wrote a separate saying that requiring cash-only bonds would punish poorer defendants, "as well as those whose wealth is invested and do not have ready at their disposal large sums of cash."
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