This case challenged the City of El Paso’s payment policy for Class C misdemeanors – usually parking tickets.
The question before the U.S. Supreme Court was whether the State is required to return court fines and fees paid upon conviction when the conviction is reversed on appeal. Both Petitioners’ convictions were reversed on appeal, and they sought a refund of the fines and fees they paid.
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.
The case alleged that Sentinel’s practice of requiring people under its supervision to pay for and undergo drug testing without a court order violated due process and constituted an unconstitutional search.
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.
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 article summarizes the research, advocacy, and communications tools the ACLU of Ohio used to successfully combat debtors’ prisons and provides guidance on how to execute similar strategies in other states.