Judicial resistance to excessive monetary sanctions

Ed Spillane, a judge in the College Station, TX municipal court, writes about his approach to reduce the abuse of monetary sanctions in the Washington Post:

What to do with these cases? In Tate v. Short , a 1971 Supreme Court decision, the justices held that jail time is not a proper punishment for fine-only criminal cases, citing the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. But in many jurisdictions, municipal judges — whether they’re overworked, under pressure to generate revenue through fees, skeptical of defendants’ claims to poverty or simply ignorant of the law — are not following the rules. As a result, far too many indigent defendants are cited for contempt of court and land behind bars for inability to pay.

There’s another way, and I’ve been experimenting with it in my own courtroom.

DOJ condemns incarceration for non-payment of monetary sanctions

The DOJ recently issued a new set of recommendations to state and local legislators and judges recommending broad reforms to the imposition of monetary sanctions and consequences for non-payment.  In particular, they reinforce the unconstitutionality of incarcerating individuals for non-payment of fines and fees when they are unable to pay. Principal Investigator Alexes Harris was part of the White House convening that helped inform DOJ on monetary sanctioning practices around the country.