3/28/16 The Department of Justice and the Town of Ferguson, Missouri have this month agreed to a plan designed to end local practices which disadvantage the poor, and subject those unable to pay fines and fees to imprisonment or prevent them from receiving a court hearing until fines and fees are paid. The Town’s leadership, court and police agencies were found to have been focused on generating revenue for City budgets through encouraging ticket writing.
The Supreme Court has issued several decisions regarding the unconstitutionality of imprisoning those too poor to pay a debt; in Williams v. Illinois, the court ruled a defendant’s failure to pay court fines or costs could not justify an extension of imprisonment, in Tate v. Short, the court ruled a defendant could not be imprisoned based solely on inability to pay a fine, and lastly in Bearden v. Georgia, the court made a distinction between an indigent person too poor to pay court costs and those willfully choosing not to pay.
For a recent article on this topic, see the nytimes.com article below:
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