United States v. City of Ferguson

Following the release of the Report of a lengthy civil rights investigation of the City of Ferguson, its police department and its municipal court, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a complaint against the City of Ferguson. The complaint alleged, among other things, that the City’s conduct related to the imposition and enforcement of fines and fees for traffic and other municipal code violations was unconstitutional. DOJ asserted that Ferguson relied heavily on revenue from municipal code violations to fund city government, pressured the police department to issue as many citations as possible, charged excessive fines and fees, and incarcerated people who could not afford to pay the fines and fees imposed without any determination of their ability to pay.

Consent Decree

In April 2016, a consent decree was entered into by parties and a modified consent decree was agreed to in June 2018. The initial consent decree provided:

  • A Monitor will be appointed to oversee the consent decree.
  • City will implement a comprehensive amnesty program eliminating all pending charges, fines, fees and warrants related to failure to appear violations and will decline prosecution in all open cases initiated prior to 11/2014.
  • Court will affirmatively inquire as to the defendant’s ability to pay prior to imposing any fines and fees and whenever enforcement action is proposed to be taken.
  • The City will maintain a list of preset fines for all municipal ordinance violations in consultation with the Monitor and subject to DOJ approval; the City will recommend to the judge fines that are not overly punitive, take into account the income of Ferguson residents and that are no greater than regional averages for the specific offense.
  • City will provide all defendants with the option of performing community service in lieu of paying fines and fees or with reasonable payment plans.
  • Pretextual stops by Ferguson police are only allowed for suspected felony activity.

The June 2018 modified decree provides:

  • City will maintain a list of preset fines that must be consistent with the fine amounts specified on the Uniform Fine Schedule for St. Louis County; no requirement that fines not be overly punitive or consider the income of Ferguson residents.
  • Pretextual stops allowed for any suspected unlawful activity.
  • Police officers’ business cards must include the name and phone number of the officer’s supervisor.

You can find a detailed summary and relevant case documents via the Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse.

Related: Department of Justice “Dear Colleague” letter. 

Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, 42 U.S.C. § 14141, and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d.
Docket Number: 4:16-cv-00180 (E.D. Mo.)
February 2016
U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division