Kevin Thompson is a nineteen-year-old who lives with his mother, sister, and four-month old niece. On July 18, shortly after Mr. Thompson pulled into his driveway, a police officer informed him that he was driving on a suspended license. Mr. Thompson was unaware that his driver’s license was suspended. Mr. Thompson later discovered that the reason for the suspension was his failure to appear in court for a minor traffic violation. He was jailed for one night in the DeKalb County Jail, ordered to pay a fine of $810 within thirty days, serve 12 months of probation, pay court costs, probation fees, and a Georgia Crime Victim Emergency Fund fee.
Judicial Correction Services, Incorporated (“JCS”) a for-profit company, enforces payments of DeKalb County fines and fees through the practice of “pay-only probation.” While Kevin was on probation, however, he earned only an average of $80 dollars each week from odd jobs at an auto shop. He was unable to earn enough money to pay for basic necessities, including food, public transportation, and his portion of the rent for his family’s home. The suspension of his driver’s license made it difficult for him to look for, and secure, paid employment.
Mr. Thompson borrowed money from his relatives to keep up with the payments to JCS. However, he simply could not afford to keep up, and his probation was revoked. At time, he owed $28 in fees to JCS, $792 in fines and fees to the Recorders Court, and $18 to the Georgia Crime Victim Emergency Fund. An ability to pay hearing was never held for Mr. Thompson.
Mr. Thompson was jailed for five days due to his inability to pay fines and fees. He was not informed of his right to request court-appointed counsel, and was ultimately not provided with counsel, nor a pre-deprivation indigency hearing prior to being jailed.
In March 2018, the parties settled and stipulated to the dismissal of the action with prejudice. “Under the settlement, DeKalb County and the other defendants denied liability to Thompson, but the Chief Judge of the DeKalb County Recorder’s Court agreed to take measures to protect the rights of people who cannot afford to make fine and fee payments required as a condition of probation for traffic and other misdemeanor offenses. The measures include:
- Adoption of a ‘bench card’ that provides judges with instructions to avoid sending people to jail because they owe court fines and are unable to pay. The card lists the legal alternatives to jail and outlines the procedure for determining someone’s ability to pay. It also instructs judges on how to protect people’s right to counsel in probation revocation proceedings.
- Training and guidance to Recorder’s Court personnel involved in misdemeanor probation on probationers’ right to counsel in revocation proceedings and right to an indigency hearing before jailing for failure to pay fines and fees.
- Revision of forms to let people charged with probation violation know of their right to court-appointed counsel in probation revocation proceedings, and their right to request a waiver of any public defender fees they cannot afford.”
Additionally, the settlement includes a payment to Mr. Thompson and his counsel for $70,000.
You can find relevant court documents via the ACLU and Prison Legal News: complaint, settlement agreement, stipulation of dismissal with prejudice.