IMMEDIATE RELEASE Fort Myers, Florida-December 5, 2021
Rachael Pierson’s three young children haven’t seen their mom in almost 4 months. She has lost over $9,000 in earnings, her home is in jeopardy of foreclosure, she has spent $4,000 in legal fees, hasn't been home with loved ones, since August 18th. She has been in jail, held no bond on petit theft, misdemeanor shoplifting. Will she be home before Christmas? That’s up to a county court judge to decide on Tuesday.
Every year, nearly 12 million people are booked into jails, mostly for misdemeanors. Even three days in jail can have serious collateral consequences, putting stress on “fundamentals like jobs, housing, and family connections”, according to the Vera Institute Prosecutors frequently use pre-trial detention to coerce plea agreements from indigent defendants,
and research shows that accused persons who are detained pre-trial are exponentially more likely to be convicted of a crime. Eager to leave detention, incarcerated people are often reluctant to wait for trial to prove their innocence. They accept ‘CTS-credit time served, overwhelmingly pleading guilty to misdemeanors to get released from jail. The purpose of money bail is not to punish, it is to assure the defendant’s presence at future court proceedings, but it often serves to keep those without resources detained indefinitely.
In at least one Florida county, some judges use Florida Statute, 903.0471, to revoke bond/no bond defendants, most of whom were on non-violent misdemeanor bonds, like Ms. Pierson, for any other charge, be it panhandling, violation of saltwater fishing regulation, driving with an expired tag, reckless driving. The same court, revoking her bond, did not revoke bond for everyone with a new charge, even a man bonded for a felony2 with a new felony2. I don’t know why; it goes against equal protection. One of the two county judges assigned misdemeanor cases rarely grants new bond and those people stay in jail until the state offers time served. Ms. Pierson will have been in jail 114 days on Tuesday. According to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, 18% of people charged with misdemeanors in FL are sentenced to jail and the average incarceration is 31 days. Pierson’s new charge, that she bonded out on, is a criminal driving charge, from another court, with a mandatory license suspension. She is adamant she isn’t guilty and not pleading guilty. Court records show that’s what the prosecutor wants and the Judge, as he usually does, has acquiesced thus far to the prosecutor’s will, keeping her in jail.
Nationwide there is bipartisan willingness to greatly reduce pretrial detention rates. These people are presumed innocent and it’s expensive to warehouse detainees. In Florida, WFTV9 reported on the high cost of pretrial detention to taxpayers and Volusia County saving $3 million a year from their effort to expand pretrial release. The Sun Sentinel reported Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Broward counties had instituted programs to “avoid locking up people” for non-violent misdemeanors, small time offenders. Broward was looking into extending non-criminal citations to petit theft, possession of paraphernalia, trespassing, and other non-violent offenses, not including DUI.
Take a look at Charlotte County, where Pierson is; in 2007, (latest year publicly available) the cost per inmate, per day was $70. Using the cost from 14 years ago, CC taxpayers have spent $7,980 to house Ms. Pierson. She has lost even more in income and paid legal fees that far exceed any fine or cost for the alleged charges. Her children and loved ones miss her and she is the sole source of support. Utilities have been shut off and if she isn’t out of jail soon, she won’t have a home when she gets out. Besides the unbelievable disregard for her civil rights, the injustice and the emotionally scarring, degrading, experiences that she has suffered, what this has cost her and the taxpayers looks like a lose, lose proposition. Justice Now is going to publish a fundraiser to help Rachael and her family. We should all be calling our County Commissioners, tell them pretrial detention should be the exception and people like Rachael should not be sitting in a cell waiting for trial. Check our page at wedeservejusticenow.org, on Tuesday night for the link to the fundraiser and to find out if the Grinch stole Christmas.