Plaintiff, a 22 year old mother of two small children, was required to pay $917.00 in fines and fees and an additional $41.60 for probation supervision. Defendant made no payments. She lived on food stamps, was sick for 6 months of her last pregnancy and only started a job one week before the hearing when her fines and fees were imposed. Her job paid her $8.50/hour. Although for a time she worked a second job cleaning a stadium, she quit because it was too much work. Plaintiff was supposed to complete a job search log but didn’t, and because of that, as well as her failure to pay her fines and fees, she was accused of violating the terms and conditions of her probation. The trial court never allowed the public defender to present argument, determined Thompson’s failure to pay was a willful and substantial violation of probation, and incarcerated her. The trial judge stated plaintiff could have at least given $1 toward her fines and fees.
The District Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court. The dissenting judge noted that no factual inquiry as to the defendant’s ability to pay was made on the record. Further, a failure to turn in a job search log is not a proper basis for revocation. Finally, the plaintiff was incarcerated before she could use money from the new job to make a payment.
You can read the decision here.
Incarcerating a financially indigent mother of three for failing to pay $917 of court costs goes beyond unreasonable; it harkens back to Anatole France’s adage that the “law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” –Dissent, Judge Scott Makar