Case Update for Rosalyn “Bird” Holmes

In May 2018, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights paid the $60,000 bail of Rosalyn “Bird” Holmes, then 16. Bird was being detained in an adult jail 50 miles from her home in Memphis under Tennessee’s antiquated “safekeeping” laws, which kept individuals under 18 detained pretrial and other vulnerable populations, such as pregnant women, in solitary confinement in state prisons, rather than in their local jails, until their cases could be resolved, simply because of their inability to pay for their freedom.

As a result of the advocacy of the ACLU of Tennessee, the Memphis Black Lives Matter Chapter, the Memphis Community Bail Fund, and Just City, the governor signed legislation rescinding these laws shortly after Bird’s release.

After RFK Human Rights posted her bail, Bird returned home to her family, went back to school, and obtained a job. She attended the RFK Human Rights Ripple of Hope Gala in 2018, where she spoke about her experience and what the posting of her bail meant to her. In August 2020, the charges against her were dismissed.

In response to the question of how Bird’s pretrial freedom affected the outcome of her case, her attorney, Josh Spickler, responded:

“I’d say that having Rosalyn out of custody for the duration of the negotiations with the prosecution and during preparations for a potential trial made all the difference in the world. Not only did she get back to school, family, and work, her freedom meant that she did not feel pressure to respond to offers from the State that would have required her to admit guilt to something for which she was not responsible. Ultimately, the State of Tennessee and the judge made the determination that she was, in fact, not guilty, but it took more than two years. There is almost no way we would have gotten the same outcome if she had been in custody.

Outside of the impact on the legal outcome, Rosalyn was able to resume her life as a teenager, continuing her education and working her part-time job. She remained with her family. By paying her bond, RFK significantly limited the interruption to her life that this criminal allegation could have caused. Now, she has no criminal record, and she can build on the last two years of a more or less normal teenage life. She has a future that is much, much brighter than it otherwise would have been.”