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6 South Carolina Legislators Want Same-Sex Marriages to Be Called 'Parody Marriages'

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 17:30 -0500

Same-sex marriage is a product of the secular humanist religion and thus unconstitutional, bill's sponsors say.

Sometimes legislators do something so discriminatory and full of hate that it’s hard to believe someone isn’t trying to pull your leg. But six Republican legislators in South Carolina last week introduced legislation that would define any marriage not between a man and a woman as a “parody marriage.” And they’re deadly serious.

On Feb. 15, Reps. Steven Long, Bill Chumley, Mike Burns, John McCravy, Josiah Magnuson, and Rick Martin introduced the “Marriage and Constitution Restoration Act” in the South Carolina House of Representatives. The bill uses the terms “marriage” and “parody marriage” to redefine what unions the state would recognize. “Parody marriage,” the legislation says, “means any form of marriage that does not involve one man and one woman.”

The bill is unconstitutional on its face, and the legal analysis it employs is absurd. It relies partly and mistakenly on the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion.” Under the Establishment Clause, a secular law means one that is nonreligious while a nonsecular one would be religious in nature. Here’s where things get absurd. According to these representatives, same-sex marriage is religious because all LGBTQ individuals are members of the “religion of Secular Humanism.” Therefore, same-sex marriage is nonsecular and thus a “parody marriage” that the state of South Carolina would no longer recognize if the bill passed.

This isn’t a joke.

The legislation also neglects to define the term parody. According to Merriam Webster, a parody is “an imitation of the style of a particular writer, artist, or genre with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect." The use of the term by the lawmakers seems to suggest that same-sex marriages are for comic effect. But the only “comic effect” here is that the authors actually introduced this bill, with this language, in 2018.

The legislators, however, go further. Same-sex marriage, they believe, was the opening “Secular Humanists” needed “to infiltrate and indoctrinate minors in public schools to their religious world view which is questionably moral, plausible, obscene, and is not secular.” If you’re going to introduce such a hateful piece of legislation, you might as well go all the way and throw in some paranoid conspiracy theories, too.

Even if this absurd piece of legislation were to pass the South Carolina legislature, the courts would strike it down as unconstitutional. Marriage equality is settled law, and was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2015. Some lawmakers in South Carolina can’t handle that, and by engaging in this legislative stunt, they are making a parody of themselves.




Debt Collection Companies Have Hijacked the Justice System

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 09:15 -0500

People who can’t afford to pay bills face arrest and jailing because of powerful money-hungry debt collectors. Denise Zencka, a mother of three in Indiana, had to file for bankruptcy because she couldn’t afford to repay her bills for treatment for thyroid cancer. And because she was unable to work, she had to stay with her parents in Florida while she recovered. She didn’t know that during that time, at the request of a debt collector seeking to collect outstanding medical bills, a small claims court judge had issued three warrants for her arrest. When she returned to Indiana, she was arrested by local sheriff’s deputies for the private debt she owed. Once at the jail, and being too sick to climb the stairs to the women’s section, she was held in a men’s mental health unit. Its glass walls allowed the male prisoners to watch everything she did, including using the toilet. As in Zencka’s case, and in thousands of other similar cases around the country, courts are issuing arrest warrants and serving as taxpayer-funded tools of the multi-billion-dollar debt collection industry. Debtors’ prisons were abolished by Congress in 1833. They are often thought to be a relic of the Dickensian past. In reality, private debt collectors are using the courts to get debtors arrested and to terrorize them into paying, even when a debt is in dispute or when the debtor has no ability to pay. Tens of thousands of arrest warrants are issued annually for people who fail to appear in court to deal with unpaid civil debt judgments. In investigating this issue for the new ACLU report, “A Pound of Flesh,” we examined more than 1,000 cases in 26 states, in which civil court judges issued arrest warrants for debtors. The debtors were often unaware that they had been sued. In many cases, they had not received notice to show up in court. Read the Report Arrest warrants were issued in cases involving every kind of consumer debt or loan, including debts as small as $28. People have been arrested for debts arising from medical fees, federal and private student loans, car payments, unpaid rent, daycare fees, small-business loans, credit card bills, foreclosure deficiencies, high-interest payday loans, and gym fees, to name just a few types. The process starts when a debt collector files a lawsuit, and it snowballs from there. Each year, collectors flood small-claims and other state courts with millions of suits seeking repayment. Many courts churn through collection suits with almost no scrutiny. Over 95 percent of debt collection suits end in favor of the collector, usually because alleged debtors do not or cannot mount a defense. Then, with a judgment in hand, creditors can ask courts to require the person to show up in court for “judgment debtor examinations,” at which they are required to answer questions about their finances and assets. If the debtor does not appear for the exam, debt collectors can ask the judge to issue a civil warrant for the debtor’s arrest. Our investigation found that many people missed their court dates because of work, childcare responsibilities, lack of transportation, physical disability, illness, or because they didn’t receive notification of the court date. We found two cases in which elderly women missed hearings because they were terminally ill. They died shortly after warrants were issued for their arrest. The threat of arrest is an incredibly powerful tactic for collectors. As one lawyer in Texas, who has sought arrests of student loan borrowers, has noted, “It’s easier to settle when the debtor is under arrest.” Once arrested, a debtor may languish in jail for days until he can arrange to pay bail. Judges sometimes set bail at the exact amount of the judgment. And the bail money often is turned over to the debt collector or creditor as payment against the judgment. Even when people aren’t arrested, warrants can cause long-lasting harm because they may be entered into background check databases, with serious consequences for future employment, housing[...]



Where Does #MeToo Start?

Fri, 16 Feb 2018 11:45 -0500

How sex stereotypes in schools perpetuate sexual harassment in the workplace and beyond. Reckoning with the prevalence of sexual harassment and gender-based violence in the wake of #MeToo has prompted many to reexamine the conditions that have allowed harassment and violence to flourish. One place to start is our public schools, where young people develop critical understandings about gender starting at an early age. For over a decade, the ACLU has been raising alarms about teaching methods widely in use in public schools across the United States premised on the notion that there are fundamental, sex-based differences that determine how students learn and develop. Proponents of these methods frequently cast boys as active or dominant, and girls as passive or submissive — stereotypes that normalize the power dynamics that lead to abuse and harassment. Consider the slide below, from a teacher training widely used by public schools in Volusia County, Florida, which literally divides students into pink and blue: Or this poster, recently posted on the wall of an all-boys public school in Dallas: Michael Gurian, a popular author and chief proponent of this philosophy, has claimed: “Pursuit of power is a universal male trait. Pursuit of a comfortable environment is a universal female trait.” He suggests that boys who like to read or do not enjoy contact sports have a problem, and should be disciplined and made to spend time with “normal males” and play sports. He also recommends that boys be provided nerf bats to hit things in order to release physical aggression. Leonard Sax, another popular author, claims that teachers should discipline boys by asserting power over them or even spanking them, while they should discipline girls by appealing to their empathy. Both Sax and Gurian regularly provide teacher trainings in public schools, paid for at taxpayer expense, including recent mandatory trainings in Dallas, Texas and West Milford Township, New Jersey, to name just a few. Educators often favor this approach because it matches perceptions of how “most” boys and girls behave, and because they are led to believe that separating boys from girls into different classes will eliminate distraction in the classroom and lead to better student performance outcomes. But scientific evidence tells a different story. Claims about differing male and female brains have been largely debunked: Brains are much more similar across sex than they are different, and what differences do exist don’t necessitate different teaching methods. What’s more, there is no valid evidence that the use of these teaching techniques is effective. If we teach that boys are hardwired to be aggressive and dominating, and girls passive and submissive, how can we hold boys and men accountable when they perpetrate harassment and abuse? If we treat girls as too distracting to be educated in the same room as boys, what does that say about the relative value of girls’ and boys’ education, or their potential contributions to society? And if we presume male and female students can’t learn together in the same classrooms, how will they learn to coexist and treat each other with respect, whether in higher education or the workplace? HAVE YOU BEEN HARASSED ON THE JOB? TELL US YOUR STORY. There is also the question of where this leaves students who don’t conform to gender expectations, including LGBTQ and non-binary students. Using sex as a proxy for students’ learning styles — or even to determine which classroom a student enters at school — erases their experience. Teaching that there is a “normal” way to be a boy or girl can exacerbate feelings of isolation, and increase instances of harassment and bullying, to which LGBTQ and non-binary students are already disproportionately subject. Ultimately, there is little to be gained from using education practices that highlight gender differences, as opposed to emphasizing commonalities and meeting students where they are as individuals. Studi[...]



Appeals Court Declares Third Muslim Ban Unconstitutional

Thu, 15 Feb 2018 18:15 -0500

Trump’s ban, says court, “strikes at the basic notion that the government may not act based on religious animosity.” Once again, an appeals court ruled that President Trump’s Muslim ban — now in its third iteration — violates the Constitution’s most basic guarantee of religious freedom. Earlier today, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit stated that the ban’s purpose has always been and remains to “exclude Muslims from the United States.” The ruling comes at a crucial time, because the Supreme Court will issue its own decision on the ban this summer. Today’s decision confirms what has been clear since Trump first took office. Throughout his presidential campaign, he consistently promised to block Muslim immigration and even announced a specific plan for achieving that goal: a nationality-based travel ban against people from predominantly Muslim countries. As promised, one week into his presidency, without consulting any federal agencies, he issued an unprecedented ban against people from seven overwhelmingly Muslim countries. Chaos ensued at airports across the country. Americans showed up in droves to stand up for their families, their neighbors, and their colleagues, driving home the message that religious bigotry has no place in our country. The courts quickly blocked the ban. Since then, Trump has done everything in his power to carry out his goal. After the first ban was blocked, he instructed the government agencies he had ignored the first time around to “compile additional factual support,” as his lawyers put it, to implement the same basic policy. Sure enough, after three weeks, the president signed a second ban, this time targeting six predominantly Muslim countries. Courts blocked that second version, ruling that the president does not gain the ability to suddenly ban millions of Muslims simply by getting his cabinet to sign off on it. The courts did, however, allow the administration to implement the president’s order to conduct a study of existing visa vetting procedures, to determine what other restrictions to impose. To oversee that process, Trump installed a Department of Homeland Security official who, like the president himself, had explicitly advocated for a ban on Muslim immigrants and surveillance of mosques in the United States. To no one’s surprise, that process led to a recommendation that the president do what he had already done twice: ban people from predominantly Muslim countries, virtually the same ones named in the first two versions of the ban. Trump signed the third ban in September. Unlike the first two versions, which were temporary, this one permanently bans people from six Muslim-majority countries. It also bans people from North Korea, which sends almost no one to the United States, and a handful of government officials from Venezuela. Thankfully, the courts have again roundly rejected the president’s attempt to keep Muslims out of the country. In December, the Ninth Circuit court of appeals ruled that the ban violates U.S. immigration laws, which do not allow the president to remove entire countries from our immigration system. The Supreme Court will hear that case this spring. Today’s decision is notable because it is the first time an appeals court has ruled that the permanent ban violates the Constitution. The Fourth Circuit rejected the government’s attempt to portray the third ban as completely separate from the first two. As the court explains, “a reasonable observer could hardly swallow the claim that the addition of North Korea and Venezuela to the twice-enjoined travel ban” changed the ban’s basic purpose. The court pointed to “undisputed evidence that the President of the United States has openly and often expressed his desire to ban those of Islamic faith from entering the United States.” The evidence is indeed overwhelming. Late last year, Trump posted three anti-Muslim videos intended to sow fear of Muslims immigrants and distru[...]



Take It From a Death Row Exoneree: The Dallas County DA Election Is a Big Deal

Thu, 15 Feb 2018 17:00 -0500

The most powerful elected official you've never heard of.

This piece originally appeared at the Dallas Morning News.

On March 6, the voters of Dallas County will begin the process of choosing their next district attorney. This is a critical decision that will have lasting effects on the lives of millions of Texans.

A county election might seem unimportant compared to the daily drama of national politics, but I know better than most the awesome power district attorneys wield. I also know how much damage they can do when they exercise that power corruptly or irresponsibly. Or when they measure their success not by their commitment to truth, justice and community, but by the number of convictions they secure.

Because of one such district attorney, I spent 18-and-a-half years behind bars, with 16 of those years in solitary confinement and 12 on death row, all for a crime that I did not commit.

Because of a district attorney, my death was scheduled twice. Because of a district attorney, I will forever be known not only as Anthony Graves, grandfather, father and son, but as United States Death Row Exoneree 138.

The district attorney who put me through those two decades of torture and despair was ultimately disbarred, but that level of accountability for prosecutorial misconduct is rare. District attorneys are almost never held accountable for their misdeeds, which is why it's so important to choose them wisely at the ballot box.

I spent 18-and-a-half years behind bars, with 16 of those years in solitary confinement and 12 on death row, all for a crime that I did not commit.

District attorneys are the most powerful and influential public servants in the criminal justice system. They have more impact on the communities they serve than President Donald Trump, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions or Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. They influence whether a person is charged with a crime, and whether that person will have to sit in jail awaiting trial. They affect whether a drug addict gets treatment or a prison sentence. They determine whether police officers will be held accountable for instances of excessive or lethal force. They alter the course of state and local criminal justice legislation. And they are among the primary drivers of mass incarceration in America.

In a state like Texas, which has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, choosing the right DA couldn't be more important. And in Dallas County, which locks up a disproportionate number of African Americans, Latinos and women, voters have an opportunity to bring about real and positive change.

Dallas County deserves a district attorney who treats incarceration as a last resort rather than a default response. Far too many people are held in jail while they await trial simply because they cannot afford bail, or for minor drug possession, or because they've fallen behind on traffic fines and fees. And those who are in jail naturally lose the ability to support themselves or their families, sticking taxpayers with the bill for their food, housing and health care.

The remedies are well known, and they work. Pre-trial diversion programs, pre-trial incarceration reforms, drug treatment programs, mental health screenings and treatment, and the elimination of racial biases in policing and prosecution would all do a great deal to reduce mass incarceration in Dallas County.

But none of this is possible without a district attorney for whom truth is more important than a conviction rate.




We’re Challenging Ohio Lawmakers’ Thinly Veiled Attempt to Push Abortion Out of Reach

Thu, 15 Feb 2018 14:45 -0500

The Ohio law pretends to protect people with disabilities, but it’s really an attack on a woman’s reproductive rights. Ohio politicians have launched yet another attack on women’s health and reproductive rights, and to make matters worse, they are mounting their attack in the guise of a concern for individuals with disabilities. Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of Preterm Cleveland and a number of other abortion care providers to challenge an unconstitutional abortion ban. The law, signed by Gov. John Kasich, would prevent a woman from ending a pregnancy because of a Down syndrome diagnosis. It does so by criminalizing any doctor who knowingly performs an abortion sought on that basis. The law, unless it is stopped by a court, would go into effect next month. Although it’s packaged differently from the other 18 restrictions that Gov. Kasich signed before it, this ban is just another thinly veiled attempt to push abortion out of reach and interfere in a woman’s personal decision. It’s also unconstitutional — a federal court struck down a similar law in Indiana back in 2016. Let’s make one thing clear: This law does nothing to honor or support families who decide to bring a special needs child into the world. It does not improve access to health care, education, or other services, nor does it do anything to address discrimination against people with disabilities. What this law does is to deny women’s constitutional right to make their own reproductive decisions, and it also interferes with women’s relationships with their doctors, by making it harder to have honest and informed conversations. We can’t know all the factors behind a woman’s decision to continue or end a pregnancy. We can, however, ensure that a woman has the relevant information and resources she needs to make the decision that’s best for the circumstances of her pregnancy and for her family. Politicians should do everything in their power to make sure Ohio women have access to accurate medical information, resources, and the support necessary to raise their children with dignity. Instead, they’re passing laws that restrict a woman’s ability to have these critical conversations, while forcing doctors to interrogate their patients. Emily Chesnut — the mother of seven-year-old Nora, who has Down syndrome — spoke at the press conference announcing the lawsuit. She said it best: No parent should have to embark on this journey uninformed. They should be able to have a frank, honest conversation with their doctor about what it will mean to have a child with Down syndrome. They should have all the information and be encouraged to ask more questions, so they can make this very personal decision freely, without the presence of politicians in the exam room. This bill does nothing to help with that. I understand that talking about Down syndrome tugs at heartstrings. I understand the fierce pride and protectiveness that parents of children with Down syndrome feel. I feel it too. This bill is not about Down syndrome. It is not about protecting our children or making their lives better. This bill is about putting another hurdle in front of women who have a constitutional right to make their own decisions about their bodies and their futures. As a mother, I will not stand for that. If Ohio politicians do, in fact, want to support people with disabilities, there are many steps they could take. The government’s role should be to help level the playing field for people with disabilities, who face particular obstacles in getting health care, housing, education and other services. How about we start with improving those services?[...]



ICE Keeps Challenging Federal Courts’ Authority — And Losing.

Wed, 14 Feb 2018 11:00 -0500

In national assault on immigrants’ rights, ICE believes no population is off the table. U.S. law and courts say otherwise. In a recent span of 10 days, four courts issued decisions that could literally save lives. Our clients live across the United States, but all have been swept up in ICE’s aggressive new campaign to target communities previously considered low-priority for immigration enforcement, with ICE attempting to deport them as quickly as possible. Since July 2017, we have challenged this bully tactic in federal district courts across the country, filing cases on behalf of communities of Iraqis in Michigan, Indonesians in New Hampshire, Somalis in Florida, Cambodians in Southern California, and Indonesians in New Jersey. Between Jan. 25 and Feb. 2, judges across the country temporarily blocked the deportations of the four latter cases. The Iraqis, whose case was the first to be filed in June 2017, have already received a nationwide stay. For varying reasons, all these communities previously enjoyed a reprieve from deportation, in some cases for decades. However, with the change in administration, a target was placed on their backs. As Thomas Homan, ICE’s acting director, declared at a December press conference, “The president has made it clear in his executive orders: There’s no population off the table.” However, in ruling after ruling, judges have taken issue with the government’s argument that these noncitizens — because of existing final orders of removal, some of which are decades old — have no meaningful opportunity to access the immigration court system to present their claims that they face grave harm if deported. Moreover, they have rejected the government’s assertion that federal courts lack jurisdiction to rule on such matters. While ICE argues that our clients should confine themselves to prevailing upon existing immigration channels, the federal judges recognized that, without their intervention, individuals would likely be deported before they have a chance to do so. In carrying out this campaign, ICE has shown little to no regard for the circumstances in immigrant’s countries of origin or the reasons they fear danger upon return. Instead, the agency has demonstrated it is willing to ignore our asylum laws and to repeatedly — and unsuccessfully — challenge federal courts’ jurisdictions in order to deport people as quickly as possible. Under the Immigration and National Act, the government cannot deport a noncitizen to a country where their particular race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion puts their life or freedom at risk. The United States has also committed to adhere to the United Nation’s Convention Against Torture, and thus cannot deport a noncitizen to a country “where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.” In the face of these legal barriers, ICE has focused its energy on trying to stop communities fighting deportation from receiving sufficient time to reopen their cases before immigration judges, who might find they qualify for protection under these laws. The agency’s hasty approach, in the face of such high stakes, has raised flags for the judiciary. In the case of 1,400 Iraqis, many of whom fear that their religious affiliation and time in America will mark them as targets by ISIS, Judge Goldsmith of Michigan found, “While cost and efficiency in administering the immigration system are not illegitimate governmental concerns, such interests pale to the point of evaporation when weighed against the potential lethal harm Petitioners may suffer.” When weighing the future of Indonesian Christians in New Hampshire who fear religious persecution, Judge Saris of Massachusetts drew parallels to the 1939 U.S. decision to turn away Jewish refugees aboard the St. Louis, who were seeki[...]



I Sentenced a Teen to Die in Prison. I Regret It.

Tue, 13 Feb 2018 16:45 -0500

A retired judge sentenced a teenager to 241 years in prison. She now believes her sentence was unconstitutional.

This piece originally appeared at The Washington Post

“You will die in the Department of Corrections.” Those are the words I spoke as a trial judge in 1997 when I sentenced Bobby Bostic to a total of 241 years in prison for his role in two armed robberies he committed when he was just 16 years old.

Bostic and an 18-year-old friend robbed a group of six people who were delivering Christmas presents to a needy family in St. Louis. Two shots were fired. A bullet grazed one person, but no one was seriously injured. The two then abducted and robbed another woman — who said she was groped by Bostic’s accomplice before the two released her. They used the money they stole from her to buy marijuana. Despite overwhelming evidence against him, Bostic chose to go to trial. He was found guilty.

Bostic had written me a letter trying to explain his actions, but despite this, he had not, in my view, demonstrated sufficient remorse.

I told him: “You are the biggest fool who has ever stood in front of this court. . . . You made your choice. You’re gonna have to live with your choice, and you’re gonna die with your choice. . . . Your mandatory date to go in front of the parole board will be the year 2201. Nobody in this room is going to be alive in the year 2201.”

To keep reading this piece at The Washington Post, click here.




Your Rights in the Border Zone

Tue, 13 Feb 2018 14:30 -0500

As Customs and Border Protection becomes increasingly aggressive, knowing your rights is crucial. On Jan. 19, two Border Patrol agents boarded a Greyhound bus at a Fort Lauderdale station and proceeded to question passengers row by row. The bus, traveling from Orlando to Miami, had not crossed any international borders. Despite its domestic route, the agents interrogated passengers, ultimately detaining a Jamaican national who, Border Patrol claims, had overstayed her tourist visa. This story is not an isolated occurrence, and the practice is hardly new. However, a recent uptick in this type of immigration operation — from New York to Florida — has caused fear among travelers and immigrant communities. It has also raised important questions about the scope of immigration officials’ authority and the rights one has in these encounters. Are immigration officials allowed to stop people in places wholly inside the U.S.? U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the federal agency tasked with patrolling the U.S. border and areas that function like a border, claims a territorial reach much larger than you might imagine. A federal law says that, without a warrant, CBP can board vehicles and vessels and search for people without immigration documentation “within a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the United States.” These “external boundaries” include international land borders but also the entire U.S. coastline. What is a “reasonable distance”? The federal government defines a “reasonable distance” as 100 air miles from any external boundary of the U.S. So, combining this federal regulation and the federal law regarding warrantless vehicle searches, CBP claims authority to board a bus or train without a warrant anywhere within this 100-mile zone. Two-thirds of the U.S. population, or about 200 million people, reside within this expanded border region, according to the 2010 census. Most of the 10 largest cities in the U.S., such as New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago, fall in this region. Some states, like Florida, lie entirely within this border band so their entire populations are impacted. Are there limitations to immigration officials’ power?  The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects against arbitrary searches and seizures of people and their property, even in this expanded border area. Furthermore, as a general matter, these agents’ jurisdiction extends only to immigration violations and federal crimes. And, depending on where you are in this area and how long an agent detains you, agents must have varying levels of suspicion to hold you. We will examine specific scenarios where one might encounter CBP in more depth, but here are your key rights. These apply to every situation, outside of customs and ports of entry. You have the right to remain silent or tell the agent that you’ll only answer questions in the presence of an attorney, no matter your citizenship or immigration status. You do not have to answer questions about your immigration status. You may simply say that you do not wish to answer those questions. If you choose to remain silent, the agent will likely ask you questions for longer, but your silence alone is not enough to support probable cause or reasonable suspicion to arrest, detain, or search you or your belongings.A limited exception does exist: for people who do have permission to be in the U.S. for a specific reason and for, usually, a limited amount of time (a “nonimmigrant” on a visa, for example), the law does require you to provide information about your immigration status if asked. While you can still choose to remain silent or decline a request to produce your documents, people in this category should be aware that they could face arrest consequences. If you want to know whether you fall into this category, you shou[...]



Ohio’s Chief Justice Stands Up to Jeff Sessions in Support of Low-Income People

Tue, 13 Feb 2018 12:30 -0500

Supreme court justice in Ohio reminds judges everywhere that criminalizing poverty is unconstitutional. In late December, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded crucial guidance that advised courts not to unfairly punish people simply for being poor. While Sessions furthers the criminalization of poverty, Ohio’s chief justice is reminding her judges that the people who pass through their courtrooms are not ATMs. On January 29, Maureen O’Connor sent a letter to all Ohio trial judges to ensure they were aware that the law has not changed and “court cases are not business transactions.” Her thoughtful letter is a stark contrast to Jeff Sessions’ abrupt decision to rescind a guidance that had helped judges and court administrators around the country reform court practices to guard against abuses like debtors’ prisons — the jailing of poor people who cannot afford to pay court fines and fees. O’Connor made clear that despite the department’s decision, the Constitution remains the supreme law of the land and that the rights enshrined in that document are unchanged. She also reminded judges of their obligation to serve the public and promote fairness and equal treatment of rich and poor: “We have a special responsibility to act in a manner that bolsters public trust and confidence in the fair administration of justice for everyone. Practices that penalize the poor simply because of their economic state; that impose unreasonable fines, fees, or bail … upon on our citizens to raise money or cave to local funding pressure; or that create barriers to access to justice are simply wrong. No rescission of guidance by the [DOJ] changes that.” As co-chair of the National Task Force on Fines, Fees, and Bail Practices, O’Connor has long been a leader in Ohio and the nation on reforming practices that criminalize poverty. With the stroke of a pen, O’Connor showed leadership at a time when the country needs it. Her letter brings attention to the devastating impact of excessive court fines and fees and bail practices on the lives of low-income people and the justice system’s obligation to protect people’s rights, even when they are poor. In Ohio, particularly, O’Connor’s letter is crucial. During the ACLU of Ohio’s 2013 investigation into debtors’ prison practices across the state, we met countless people who were tethered to the criminal justice system simply because they were too poor to pay off court fines and fees. We issued a report that told the story of countless more people who were given unjustly high court fines and fees that they could not afford to pay and rigid payment plans that kept them trapped in the grips of poverty. One young couple owed thousands of dollars in fines and fees from low-level convictions, such as disorderly conduct and drinking underage. Each month, the couple was forced to make the impossible choice of whose fines they would continue to pay so one of them could stay at home with their infant while the other would spend another 10 days in jail for fines that they simply could not afford to pay. Our report also told the story of a man who could not afford to pay fines because he was recently laid off. With no health insurance and mounting medical debt, he simply could not pay his court fines. After hearing these stories, many Ohio judges admitted that they were unaware that existing laws, including Ohio statutes and the U.S. Constitution, limit the ways in which court fines and fees can be imposed and collected. Chief Justice O’Connor took action to make sure that state judges would no longer be confused. She issued a detailed bench card outlining the rules for collecting fines and fees, ensured that judges throughout Ohio were trained on those rules, and held accountable judges who continued to violate the law by jailing[...]