One defendant in a group of five declined the state’s offer of a guilty plea, prompting her case being set for trial. Court observers followed up and spoke separately with her. She was a single black woman, age 37, with three children, ages 14, 10, and 8. Her disabled grandmother also lived with her. She worked two jobs to take care of her family and brought home just under $1200 monthly. After paying rent of $715, she had very little left to meet everyone’s needs. She reported having been to Court 1A five times in the past two years, facing charges of driving on a suspended license. Each time, her experience was the same. She was assessed a fine she could not afford and, for this reason, she was unable to get her license reinstated. While observers were talking to this defendant, a bailiff who had been present in the court approached them. The bailiff explained the defendant could go to the clerk’s office on a different floor of the courthouse and ask for an indigency affidavit form, which if she completed, could result in the reduction of her fines. The woman went to the clerk’s office and returned with the affidavit. She told the observers that during all of her prior appearances in General Sessions Court, no one had ever mentioned this form to her despite the fact that she repeatedly had told the court she was unable to afford the fines assessed.
Source: Court Watching in Nashville, TN