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Number of People Sent to Jail for Inability to Pay Legal Fines Spikes in Recent Years

 Posted on August 15, 2014 in Criminal Law

A year-long investigation by National Public Radio (NPR) has revealed that more and more people are ending up behind bars because they do not have the funds to pay the ever-increasing fines and court costs associated with criminal cases.

NPR completed the investigation with the assistance of the National Center for State Courts and NYU's Brennan Center for Justice. There were more than 150 people interviewed, including, attorneys, prison right advocates, government officials and defendants who were incarcerated, as well as those who were not incarcerated.

One of the many findings the investigation uncovered is that there are many services that used to be free. Many of these services are constitutionally required; however, defendants are now paying for them. Some of these charges include:

  • Defendants can now be charged for a public defender in 43 states. ¬†Under the landmark case of Gideon v. Wainwright, in 1963, all defendants are guaranteed the right to an attorney, even if they cannot afford one. ¬†Under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, states are supposed to provide counsel.
  • Forty-four states charge people who are on probation or parole a supervision fee.
  • Forty-one states bill people in jail for room and board.
  • Forty-eight states charge fees for electronic monitoring devices.

Illinois is one of the states that charges for public defenders, probation/parole fees, jail room and board fees and electronic monitoring device fees. There has also been a significant increase in fines and court fees over the past several years.

The investigation found many instances where an offender ended up going to jail because they were unable to keep up with the payment arrangements for fines and court costs, thereby violating probation.

Some states are considering laws that would stop judges from throwing people in jail because they are too poor to pay their fines. Colorado just passed such a law as a result of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenging the practice.

If you have been arrested and charged with a crime, contact an experienced Wheaton criminal defense attorney to make sure your rights are protected.
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