In March 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and Office for Access to Justice sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to State Court Administrators and Chief Justices in each state clarifying the legal framework that governs the enforcement of fines and fees, including the importance of procedural protections and, in appropriate cases, the right to counsel.
This Note makes the case for considering state constitutional and statutory prohibitions on debtors’ prisons alongside Bearden v. Georgia claims in legal advocacy opposing excessive fines and fees.
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.
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."
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.
This bill invited criminal justice system stakeholders to participate in a work group to develop a plan and program to consolidate drivers’ traffic fines and fees from multiple Washington courts into “unified and affordable” payment plans.
Hakes could not afford to make any payments. Probation was revoked because he was unable to pay. Hakes filed a complaint stating payment for the bracelet is punitive and does not promote public safety.
Current law establishes procedures for when a sentence includes the payment of a monetary amount. This bill clarifies that the procedures also apply whenever a court enters a judgment or issues an order obligating a defendant to pay an amount to the court.
This bill requires the Municipal Court to appoint counsel in certain circumstances, including if a defendant is in custody or faces the possibility of custody for nonpayment of fines and fees.
In this essay, Marsh and Gerrick challenge the most common justification for why debtors’ prisons still exist in present-day America: generating revenue to fund local government and courts. The authors argue that revenue generation is an “incomplete explanation” for debtor’s prisons and point to a variety of other factors that could help complete the picture.