THEY’RE DOING WHAT?!
Judges in Atlanta are giving poor people and ultimatum for their freedom, either they pay a fine or, if unable to, serve jail time. The Southern Center for Human Rights sent a letter to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Atlanta Municipal Court Chief Judge Christopher Portis saying that imposing such sentences on people who cannot afford to pay violates the U.S. Constitution. The letter threatens legal action if sentencing continues.
“Pay-or-jail sentences imposed on homeless people who clearly cannot pay are not only unconstitutional, they undermine the integrity of Atlanta’s criminal legal system,” Southern Center attorney, Sarah Geraghty states.
The mayor’s communications office and the chief judge did not immediately respond.
These cases are often labeled as “FINE or TIME” sentences and judges do not ask about their ability to pay. These kinds of cases mostly affect the homeless and destitute. The Southern Center has followed 59 cases where such sentencing was imposed. Those included the following people who pleaded no contest to the charges against them:
– a man accused of being disruptive at a hospital who was charged with disorderly conduct and was sentenced to pay a $200 fine or spend 10 days in jail;
– a woman charged with disorderly conduct and being disorderly while under the influence who was sentenced to pay a $200 fine or spend 10 days in jail;
– a man charged with urinating on a city sidewalk who was sentenced to pay a $150 fine or spend two days in jail;
– a man accused of shoplifting two packs of meat who was sentenced to pay a $150 fine or spend five days in jail;
– and a woman accused of soliciting money on a train who was sentenced to pay $100 or spend three days in jail.
Many couldn’t afford to pay the fines and spent time in jail. The letter asks for a statement by March 20 that the court has issued an order to stop the practice and also to immediately take steps to release anyone currently in custody on such a sentence.