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Pay or Stay: The High Cost of Jailing Texans for Fines and Fees

This joint report by Texas Appleseed and the Texas Fair Defense Project evaluates how often fine-only offenses - offenses punishable only by a fine and no jail sentence – in fact subject Texans to jail time and suspensions of driver’s licenses or the inability to renew a license or register a vehicle because of their inability to pay.

McKee et al. v. City of Amarillo

Amarillo residents were jailed through the City’s “pay or lay” policy. It stated, “…except as otherwise provided, the Court shall require the defendant to remain in custody… until the fine, State imposed fees and other penalties are paid."

Personal Narrative: Rachel McKee

In 2015, Ms. McKee was arrested for failing to appear at hearings for traffic citations including speeding, driving without a valid license, and no insurance. After two days in jail, Ms. McKee appeared before the judge and pled guilty to all of the charges. Having no regard for her indigence, the court ordered her to pay $1727 in biweekly payments of $232.00. Ms. McKee had to pay $25 to activate the payment plan and make a down payment of $200.00.

Gonzales v. City of Austin

Plaintiffs alleged that the City of Austin jails people who are unable to pay court fines and fees. There is no inquiry into their ability to pay, no appointment of counsel, and community service is not offered as an alternative.

Salinas v. State

Mr. Salinas was sentenced to five years in prison with court costs for injury to an elderly individual. He challenged the constitutionality of two of the fees imposed by the court: the abuse of children counseling fee and the comprehensive rehabilitation fee.

Johnson v. State

Included in the appellant’s sentence was “court costs” of $234. The appellant appealed, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to support the amount of the costs.
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