Moody wrote a bounced check for $123.89 and was indicted for false pretense. The District Attorney’s Office informed Moody that she would have to pay more than $800: the $123.89 check, the $500 fine, $163.50 court costs, a $40 processing fee and a $10 returned check fee. The $500 fine and restitution were automatic with an indictment under the Bad Check law and were to be paid immediately. Moody could pay the $500 and have the indictment dismissed or not pay and proceed to trial. Moody challenged the automatic fine stating that it was a violation to an indigent person’s right under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
An indigent’s equal protection rights are violated when defendants can avoid prosecution by paying a fine, without determining an individual’s ability to pay the fine. Subjecting a person to a criminal conviction and a jail term merely because he cannot afford to pay a fine, due to no fault of his own, is unconstitutional. The Court held further that an appropriate remedy on remand would be to determine an appropriate fine based on Moody’s ability to pay, develop an appropriate payment plan for that fine plus restitution and then to dismiss the charges if she complies.
You can read the decision here.