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Buckland v. County of Montgomery of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

submitted: January 23, 1987.

SANDRA FREESE BUCKLAND, ON HER OWN BEHALF AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED AND CATHERINE HUNTER, ON HER OWN BEHALF AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED AND ALFRED TURNER, ON HIS OWN BEHALF AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, APPELLANTS
v.
COUNTY OF MONTGOMERY OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA; COUNTY OF DELAWARE OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA; COUNTY OF PHILADELPHIA OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA; AND COUNTY OF CHESTER OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLEES



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA (D.C. Civil No. 86-1223)

Author: Weis

Before GIBBONS, Chief Judge, WEIS, Circuit Judge, and ZIEGLER,*fn* District Judge

WEIS, Circuit Judge.

Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure authorized the posting of a bail bond by depositing cash equal to ten percent of the amount of bail. They also permit a county to set a reasonable fee to cover the cost of administering the program. Plaintiffs, who have been assessed varying amounts by several counties, contend that the rules are unconstitutional because they fail to provide specific guidelines for the fees. We are not persuaded by this argument and agree with the district court that the state's ten percent bail program does not violate the federal constitution.

The case comes to us after the district court granted the defendants' motions and dismissed the complaint.

Pa. R. Crim. P. 4006 provides for six methods of posting bail. The options include: a deposit of currency or certain bearer bonds; an encumbrance on realty; a surety bond issued by a professional bondsman; or where authorized by local rule, the deposit of money not exceeding ten percent of the bail set. As a corollary to the ten percent option. Pa. R. Crim. P. 4015(b) further provides that when the money is returned to the depositor, the county shall return the money "less a reasonable charge relating to the costs of administering the percentage cash bail program."

The General Court Regulations of Philadelphia County fix this administrative charge at thirty percent of the bail deposit, or phrased differently, three percent of the total amount of bail. Montgomery and Delaware Counties set the charge at twenty percent of the deposit (two percent of the total bail).

In September, 1984, plaintiff Turner posted $5,000 as a ten percent deposit for a $50,000 bail bond. When the charges were dismissed, the Clerk of Court of Philadelphia County returned $3,500 and retained $1,500 as a fee for administrative costs.

In January, 1985, plaintiff Buckland deposited $1,000 in Montgomery County for a $10,000 bail bond. When the action was not prossed, the Clerk of the Court returned $800 and retained $200 as a fee.

In August, 1983, in Delaware County, plaintiff Hunter posted $2,500 as a ten percent deposit on a $25,000 bail bond. After disposition of the case, the court retained a $500 administrative fee.

Plaintiffs filed suit in the district court under 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 1983 and 1985 on behalf of themselves and a class consisting of persons who have posted ten percent cash bonds in the defendant counties. The plaintiffs' complaint alleges that "the confiscation" of the amount retained for administrative costs constitutes an unconstitutional taking of property without due process.

The district court dismissed the complaint, noting that the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas had found the three percent retention fee constitutional and reasonably related to the costs of administrating the percentage cash bail program. In re Bail Petition of Bostic, 12 Phila. 472 (1985). That judgment was affirmed by the Pennsylvania Superior Court in an unpublished per curiam opinion. In re Bail Petition of Wittick, 356 Pa. Super. 609, 512 A.2d 729 (1986), petition for allowance of appeal filed. No. 503 E.D. Allocatur Docket (June 2, 1986).

In their brief, plaintiffs state that their "attack is upon Rule 4015(b) and not to any of the local implementing rules" by which the defendant counties set their respective retention charges. Essentially, plaintiffs contend that because Rule 4015(b) does not articulate "any ascertainable standards", it is unconstitutionally vague and thus in violation of the Due Process Clause. They also assert that the disparity in fees among the various counties "provides the lack of coherent, distinct and comprehensive standards in Pa. R. Crim. P. 4015(b)." Finally, plaintiffs complain that the district court failed to apply appropriate federal standards in granting the dismissal.

Although plaintiffs allege that the Pennsylvania rules are vague, their own arguments are notably weak in clarity and specificity. It is not clear from the record or the briefs just what plaintiffs allege is unconstitutional about the bail program. Nevertheless, we ...


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