Plaintiff, a 20 year old college student, was sentenced to jail because he was unable to pay a $206 statutory fine with $33 in court costs for throwing a cigarette butt out of his car window.
Plaintiff’s complaint requested that the Circuit Court for the County of Macomb take superintending control over the 38th District Court, requiring Judge Carl F. Gerds III to refrain from imposing pay or stay sentences on indigent defendants who are unable to pay their court debt.
Over the course of six months in 2014, the Michigan Supreme Court Ability to Pay workgroup examined the issue of ability to pay and published a report with tools, best practices, and recommendations for judges and court staff around nonpayment incarceration.
In this video, John Oliver details the devastating impacts that low-income Americans suffer due to fines and fees and the involvement of private probation companies.
The complaint alleged that impoverished city residents were jailed solely because of their inability to pay court fines and fees from traffic and other municipal violations.
Donyale Thomas was in the Ferguson jail for over a week before the City informed her that they would accept $200 for her release.
Roelif Carter pled guilty and was assessed fines and fees. Fear of jail coerced Mr. Carter to make the payment until he simply could not afford to do so.
Keilee Fant is a 37-year-old certified nurse assistant and single mother who was arrested for unpaid traffic tickets while taking her children to school. She was jailed over 12 times in 20 years for her inability to pay the debt.
Mr. Thompson was jailed for five days due to his inability to pay fines and fees. He was not informed of his right to request court-appointed counsel, and was ultimately not provided with counsel, nor a pre-deprivation indigency hearing prior to being jailed.
Unable to pay debt from traffic tickets, impoverished defendants were given the options of paying the debt immediately or sitting out their debt in jail at the rate of $50.00 a day. Those in jail were given the further option of performing janitorial services at the rate of $25.00 a day. No inquiry was made as to the defendant’s ability to pay.