Man Held in Prison for Five Months Because No One Told Him His Bail Was $2

Lawyers for Aitabdel Salem, a 41-year-old Algerian native from Queens, say he spent almost five months imprisoned at New York's Rikers Island, one of the most notorious prisons in the United States, because he was never made aware that his bail was only $2.


Police arrested Salem on Nov. 21, 2014 after he allegedly attacked an NYPD cop who stopped him for shoplifting a coat from the clothing store Zara, the New York Daily News reports. When prosecutors failed to secure an indictment, the judge in the case ordered his release from Rikers a week later, on November 28.

According to his lawyers, Salem still had dollar bails on tampering and mischief charges, two minor offenses stemming from the November 21 incident. As the New York Daily News explains:

“Judges sometimes set a dollar bail on a defendant’s subsequent charges if they believe the person’s existing bail is sufficient or if the defendant is ineligible for release for another reason, like an immigration hold.”

Salem says he was unaware of the bail amount as well as the new date of his arraignment on the police assault charge. The defendant was charged with bail jumping after he missed his May 13, 2015 court date—weeks after he was finally released from Rikers.

Salem’s lawyers say his previous attorney, Legal Aid Society defender Stephen Pokart, is to blame for Salem’s absence.

“You can’t do what you don’t know and if you’re a defendant in a criminal case you certainly have a right to rely upon the system what your next court date is,” Salem’s new attorney, Theodore Goldbergh, argued.

After his missed court date, bail for the Zara case was raised to $30,000, according to the New York Daily News.

Salem remains in prison.

“[Salem] was shocked and dismayed and frustrated that his case was unconscionably mishandled and there was no communication by his attorney telling him his bail was $2 which he could have made at any moment,” Glenn Hardy, another attorney for Salem, told the Daily News.

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