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Law School Case Brief

Stack v. Boyle - 342 U.S. 1, 72 S. Ct. 1 (1951)

Rule:

Bail set at a figure higher than an amount reasonably calculated to assure the presence of an accused is "excessive" under the Eighth Amendment

Facts:

Petitioner Loretta Starvus Stack and 11 others were arrested on charges of conspiring to violate the Smith Act and their bail was fixed initially in amounts varying from $ 2,500 to $ 100,000. Subsequently, a federal district court fixed bail pending trial in the uniform amount of $ 50,000 for each of them. Petitioners filed a motion to reduce bail, claiming that the bail as set was "excessive" under the Eighth Amendment. In support of their motion, petitioners submitted statements as to their financial resources, family relationships, health, prior criminal records, and other information. The only evidence offered by the Government was a certified record showing that four other persons previously convicted under the Smith Act in another district had forfeited bail. There was no evidence relating them to petitioners. Nevertheless, the court denied the motion to reduce bail. Petitioners then filed petitions for habeas corpus relief in the same district court. Upon consideration of the record on the motion to reduce bail, the writs were denied. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed. Petitioners were granted a writ of certiorari.

Issue:

Was the amount of petitioners' bail set by the district court excessive?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of the United States vacated the appellate court's judgment and remanded the mater to the district court with directions to vacate its order denying petitioners' applications for writs of habeas corpus and to dismiss those applications without prejudice. Petitioners were granted permission to file motions for reduction of bail in the criminal proceeding so that a hearing could be held for the purpose of fixing reasonable bail for each petitioner. The Court determined that bail set at a figure higher than an amount reasonably calculated to assure the presence of an accused was excessive under the Eighth Amendment. The Court further determined that if bail in an amount greater that that usually fixed for serious charges of crimes was required in the case of any single petitioner, that was a matter to which evidence should have been directed in a hearing so that the constitutional rights of each of petitioner could be preserved. The Court found that because of the absence of such a showing, the fixing of bail before trial could not be squared with the statutory and constitutional standards for admission to bail. The Court held that bail was not fixed by proper methods.

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