Imagine staying in prison for over 6 months when your bail is only $1?
Well, that’s what happened to Aitabdellah Salem, a Queens, NY native charged with theft for stealing a coat from Zara.
Salem was originally held in prison with a bail of $25,000, but the judge lowered it to just $1 a few days after his incarceration.
However, his lawyers, court-appointed legal aid attorneys nor the bailiff, informed him of the change. Salem ended up spending six months at Rikers Island. One of New York’s toughest prisons.
Salem was arrested in November 2014 for the theft but was released from jail in April 2015 after one of his prison chaplains posted his bail.
Aitabdellah enlisted the help of the Legal Aid Society, which is an organization dedicated to providing legal representation to low-income New Yorkers that are incarcerated.
The Legal Aid Society handles over 300,000 criminal, civil, and juvenile cases per year. They are a group of public defenders that are privately funded which means citizens donate to the group.
It is the lawyer’s duty to inform clients of any changes in their case, but Legal Aid Society failed to do so for Salem.
Now he is suing the Legal Aid Society, former DOC commissioner Joe Ponte, and Rikers Island for unlawful incarceration.
His lawyer, Welton Wisham, a private attorney, believes that there are hundreds if not thousands of cases of unlawful incarceration in New York.
Oftentimes, low-income offenders are not able to afford proper legal representation. However, the public defenders they receive are swamped with hundreds of other cases and do not properly counsel their clients.
Salem was originally charged with attacking an NYPD officer after he was arrested for stealing a jacket from the Zara retail store.
On November 26, a judge reduced his bail to $1 but Salem was not in court, and his lawyers never spoke to him about the bail decrease.
The judge ordered Salem to be released on his recognizance on November 28th after prosecutors failed to convene a grand jury.
Salem was never informed of this development by his legal term or by prison guards. Despite asking them numerous times about the case.