Our Speaker on Tuesday, September 19th was Ash Wirth the Advocacy Manager for the Minnesota Freedom Fund.  Scott Zerby introduces her as a passionate advocate for justice and her words to our club definitely proved that to be true.  Ash carefully laid the groundwork for the Freedom Fund by acknowledging that “there are multiple truths in life and no one truth is necessarily right.  I ask you today to in honest discussion and to be curious and honest with each other and share in the discussion.”  Ash’s topic was our system of justice and some of the injustices within our system particularly relating to bail and those among us that are less fortunate than us both financially and socially.  It is impossible to cover her intriguing 55 point presentation here as she gave our club a nine week course in due process and a step by step account arrest to multiple outcomes in our legal system.
               Ms. Wirth started by stating that “a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty.”  A person taken into custody can be held up to 48 hours (i.e., holidays and weekends don’t count) to allow the booking process to gain information and make a formal charge.   Often the detained person’s family and/or friends know nothing about where they are or what has happened to them.  Once charges have been made comes the arraignment hearing and/or bail hearing.  At this point there are three conditions of release:  1. Released on their own recognizance if not a security risk. 2.  Conditional release requiring certain things be done. 3.  Conditional release, bail or both.  If bail is required you get one phone call to your attorney or relative to post bail  but you have to know that number because all your personal items have been confiscated.  Making bail is tough because it has to be paid in cash to the exact amount or you go to a bail bondsman.  Bail bonding is a for-profit business that charges 10% of the court set bail that never gets returned to you even if you show up for your trial.  Many people (or relatives) can’t afford to post bail and consequently they sit in jail and this often leads to poverty, loss of job, and all the pieces start to fall apart in their life.  So much for being presumed innocent until proven guilty!  If you have money you are treated like you are innocent but if you are poor you feel like you are being treated as guilty.
               The Freedom Fund acts to advocate for those that can’t post bail and to advise them of their rights and assists them in getting released and then to show up for their trial.  Sixty percent of their clients show up and are prepared for trial and the bail gets returned.  Many reasons account for accused not showing up for trial and the advocates do all they can to get them there.  The advocates from the Freedom Fund are realists and know the plight of the poor and indigent but they also have compassion and strive to help those in need.  Ash Wirth caused us all to have some thoughtful introspection!