DENVER (AP) — A Colorado woman arrested on suspicion of possessing a small amount of methamphetamine remained in jail for weeks and decided to plead guilty because she was unable to pay a $55 county fee for pre-trial services, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado.
The federal suit argued that El Paso County's fee is unjustly keeping people in jail — even after a judge allows them to be freed on their own recognizance.
County records indicate more than 50 people were unable to pay the county fee this fall, ACLU attorneys said in the lawsuit.
Attorneys said 26-year-old Jasmine Still remained in jail for 27 days after being granted a personal recognizance bond and agreeing to attend future court appearances.
The conditions of her bond did not include any financial commitment, the lawsuit states.
Still's attorneys said she was arrested in January for the first time on suspicion of possessing three-tenths of a gram of methamphetamine. Still's children were put in foster care while she was held in jail, and county officials told a judge that the $55 fee could not be waived by anyone except the county's bond commissioners.
"As the days passed, Ms. Still remained incarcerated while her children slipped farther from her grasp," the lawsuit said. "She decided that, rather than wait in jail while she fought her case, she had no choice but to plead guilty so that she could get out of jail quickly and fight for custody of her children."
The lawsuit says pretrial detainees spent an average of 10.6 days in jail for failure to pay the pretrial services fee, with several defendants spending more than a month behind bars and one locked up for more than 100 days.
El Paso County attorneys were reviewing the lawsuit, said spokesman Dave Rose. He declined comment on specifics of the suit but said attorneys can request that the county's $55 fee be waived.
"It is not clear at this time that the procedure was available at the time of this particular situation or if (it) was appropriately followed," Rose said.
The fee helps the county provide pre-trial supervision, including staff who remind people about their court dates and other appointments, and make sure they attend court-ordered drug or alcohol programs.
"The advantages of the program are clear," Rose said. "Reduced time in jail awaiting trial frequently allows the accused person to get or keep a job and take care of family obligations. Supervision protects public safety and reduces costly overcrowding of jails."