Tuesday, March 15, 2016

DOJ: Protect The Civil Rights Of The Poor

Today the U.S. Department of Justice - Civil Rights Division wrote a letter to courts across the country mandating the protection of defendants' civil rights by avoiding illegal fees, fines & to basically stop throwing people in jail for being poor.  Below are the main points from the letter and a full pdf version of the letter:

"To help judicial actors protect individuals’ rights and avoid unnecessary harm, we discuss below a set of basic constitutional principles relevant to the enforcement of fines and fees. These principles, grounded in the rights to due process and equal protection, require the following:

(1) Courts must not incarcerate a person for nonpayment of fines or fees without first conducting an indigency determination and establishing that the failure to pay was willful; 

(2) Courts must consider alternatives to incarceration for indigent defendants unable to pay fines and fees; 

(3) Courts must not condition access to a judicial hearing on the prepayment of fines or fees; 

(4) Courts must provide meaningful notice and, in appropriate cases, counsel, when enforcing fines and fees; 

(5) Courts must not use arrest warrants or license suspensions as a means of coercing the payment of court debt when individuals have not been afforded constitutionally adequate procedural protections; 

(6) Courts must not employ bail or bond practices that cause indigent defendants to remain incarcerated solely because they cannot afford to pay for their release; and 

(7) Courts must safeguard against unconstitutional practices by court staff and private contractors."