In the past five years, the City of Doraville has budgeted to receive and has received, between 17- 30 percent of its revenue from fines and fees. Many of the tickets issued by the police are not for violations involving public health or safety; plaintiffs were ticketed for things such as high weeds in the backyard, wood logs, and exiting a turn lane before reaching the intersection. In some instances, the plaintiffs never received notice of their violations, and arrest warrants were issued for their failures to appear. Those who could not pay the fines imposed all at once were placed on a payment plan which included probation and fees.
Plaintiffs argue that by budgeting for revenue from fines and fees, Doraville creates a perverse incentive for the city’s police, prosecutors, and judges. They argue that the United States Constitution requires prosecutors and judges to be neutral decision makers – free of conflicts of interest – and that the same principle applies to law enforcement. When the city’s budget – including the police, prosecution and court budgets – depends on the revenue obtained from fines and fees, police, prosecutors and judges cannot be neutral. Rather, they have a strong incentive to ticket, charge and convict.
Pending before the Northern District of Georgia District Court.