Commonwealth v. Smetana

Appellant was held in contempt and incarcerated for failure to pay his court fines and fees without any inquiry into his ability to pay. The appellant mentioned that his sibling may be able to pay, but no further inquiry was made by the court. He was sentenced to thirty days imprisonment with credit for time served and a $200 fee to purge the contempt. In his appeal, he asked the court to consider if the trial court abused its discretion by holding him in contempt without any consideration of his ability to pay.


Prior to imprisoning a contemnor for failure to pay court fines and fees, the court must inquire into the individual’s ability to pay. The sibling’s ability to pay was irrelevant. Order vacated and remanded for a hearing on Appellant’s financial means to pay the court fines and fees.

You can read the full text of the opinion here.

42 USC § 1983 (alleging due process and equal protection violations)
191 A.3d 867(2018)
ACLU of Pennsylvania