Statutory Enforcement Report2017 .pdf

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TAR G E T E D FINE S AND FE E S AGAINS T CO MMUNIT IE S O F COLOR CIVIL RIGHT S & CON ST IT UT IONAL IMP LICAT IONS

U.S. COMMISSION ON CIVIL RIGHTS

SEPT 2017

TARGETED FINES AND FEES
AGAINST COMMUNITIES OF COLOR
CIVIL RIGHTS & CONSTITUTIONAL IMPLICATIONS

1331 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20425

www.usccr.gov

U.S . CO MM I SS I ON O N CI VI L RI G H TS

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

SEPTEMBER 2017

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is an independent, bipartisan
agency established by Congress in 1957. It is directed to:
• Investigate complaints alleging that citizens are being deprived of their right to vote by reason of their
race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, or national origin, or by reason of fraudulent practices.
• Study and collect information relating to discrimination or a denial of equal
protection of the laws under the Constitution because of race, color, religion, sex,
age, disability, or national origin, or in the administration of justice.
• Appraise federal laws and policies with respect to discrimination or denial of equal protection of the laws
because of race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, or national origin, or in the administration of justice.
• Serve as a national clearinghouse for information in respect to discrimination or denial of equal
protection of the laws because of race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, or national origin.
• Submit reports, findings, and recommendations to the President and Congress.
• Issue public service announcements to discourage discrimination or denial of equal protection of the laws.

Members of the Commission
Catherine E. Lhamon, Chair
Patricia Timmons-Goodson, Vice Chair
Debo P. Adegbile
Gail Heriot
Peter N. Kirsanow
David Kladney
Karen K. Narasaki
Michael Yaki
Mauro Morales, Staff Director

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
1331 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20425
(202) 376-8128 voice
TTY Relay: 711
www.usccr.gov

COVER IMAGE: Activists with Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE) and Decarcerate STL
hold up signs supporting the consolidation of municipal courts as Michael Gunn, a judge in Manchester, speaks during a
public hearing for a Missouri Supreme Court group studying municipal court reform on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015, at the
Missouri Court of Appeals in the Old Post Office building in St. Louis. Photo by Chris Lee, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Targeted Fines and Fees
Against Low-Income
Communities of Color:
Civil Rights and
Constitutional
Implications
Briefing Before
The United States Commission on Civil Rights
Held in Washington, DC
Briefing Report

[This page intentionally left blank]

 
UNITED STATES COMMISSION ON CIVIL RIGHTS
 

1331 PENNSYLVANIA AVE., NW  SUITE 1150  WASHINGTON, DC 20425
WWW.USCCR.GOV

Letter of Transmittal
President Donald J. Trump
Vice President Michael Pence
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan
On behalf of the United States Commission on Civil Rights (“the Commission”), and pursuant to
Public Law 103-419, I attach our 2017 Statutory Enforcement Report, titled Targeted Fines and
Fees Against Low-Income Communities of Color: Civil Rights and Constitutional Implications.
The report is also available in full on the Commission’s website at www.usccr.gov.
The report examines the Department of Justice’s enforcement efforts regarding municipal court
reforms with respect to the targeted imposition of fines and fees. The Commission heard
testimony from the Department of Justice, experts, and scholars in the field and a majority of the
Commission made findings and recommendations.
Key findings include that unchecked discretion or stringent requirements to impose fines or fees
can lead and have led to discrimination and inequitable access to justice when not exercised in
accordance with the protections afforded under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of
the United States Constitution. In addition, if a jurisdiction’s primary goal is to generate revenue
rather than promote public safety, it can create an incentive for law enforcement to issue as many
citations as possible, contrary to the pursuit of justice. Nonetheless, many jurisdictions today
require or permit courts and municipalities to impose and collect an array of fees for criminal as
well as civil justice activities in addition to government programs unrelated to courts.
The recommendations we specifically direct to the Department of Justice, following bipartisan
testimony in support, include that the Department of Justice should continue to promote core
principles identified in a March 2016 “Dear Colleague” Letter and should investigate additional
jurisdictions that appear to impose fines and fees and jail individuals for their failure to pay fines
and fees in an unconstitutional manner. Such investigations should address within their scope
issues such as fees associated with juvenile behaviors, like truancy and curfew violations
assessed against parents and guardians, as well as other municipal fines and fees.

We at the Commission are pleased to share our views, informed by careful research and
investigation, to help ensure that all Americans enjoy civil rights protections to which we are
entitled.
For the Commission,

Catherine E. Lhamon
Chair

Table of Contents

TABLE OF CONTENTS
TABLE OF CONTENTS................................................................................................................. i 
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY .............................................................................................................1 
Chapter 1: 

Introduction to Court Fines and Fees .........................................................................7 

The Rise of Fines and Fees ...........................................................................................................7 
Courts and Police as Tax Collectors ......................................................................................11 
National Spotlight—The Ferguson Example.........................................................................12 
Conflicts from Outsourcing Collections to For-Profit Companies ........................................14 
The Potential for Constitutional Concerns ..................................................................................15 
Requirement of Ability-to-Pay Determination and Equal Protection....................................15 
Conflicts of Interest and Due Process ....................................................................................16 
Chapter 2:  Extent of Fines and Fees Throughout the States and Impacts on
Communities of Color, Persons with Disabilities, and the Poor.................................................19 
Is Ferguson Unique? ..............................................................................................................19 
Court Structure and Funding .................................................................................................25 
Lack of Nationwide Data on Costs Associated with Fines and Fees Collection ...................29 
Other Demographics and Fines and Fees ..............................................................................30 
Juveniles and Court Fines ......................................................................................................31 
Damage to Judicial Credibility and Distrust of Police Officers ............................................34 
Consequences of the Inability to Pay Fines and Fees: Driver’s License
Suspensions and Incarceration .................................................................................................35 
Driver’s License Suspensions ................................................................................................36 
Serving Time in Jail ...............................................................................................................38 
Alternatives to Payment: Community Service Is Not a Cure All ..........................................40 
Chapter 3: 

Federal Reform Efforts: The Department of Justice Acts .......................................43 

Pattern or Practice Investigations: City of Ferguson and Hinds County Jail ..............................44 
Police Department Investigation: City of Ferguson ..............................................................44 
Jail-Conditions Investigation: Hinds County, Mississippi ....................................................45 
Statement of Interest: Driver’s License Suspensions in Virginia ..........................................45 
Fines and Fees “Dear Colleague” Letter ...............................................................................46 

i

ii

Targeted Fines and Fees
National Task Force Funding ................................................................................................47 
“Price of Justice” Grants ........................................................................................................48 
Juvenile Fines and Fees “Dear Colleague” Letter .................................................................49 
Chapter 4: 

Evaluating the Department of Justice’s Enforcement Efforts..................................51 

Voluntary State Reform Efforts After Receipt of the “Dear Colleague” Letter .........................51 
Arizona’s Task Force .............................................................................................................53 
Illinois’s Task Force ..............................................................................................................54 
Massachusetts ........................................................................................................................55 
Other Voluntary Court Reform Efforts..................................................................................55 
Impact of “Price of Justice” Grants ............................................................................................56 
Texas ......................................................................................................................................57 
Washington ............................................................................................................................59 
California ...............................................................................................................................61 
Louisiana................................................................................................................................62 
Missouri .................................................................................................................................63 
Impact of Pattern or Practice Investigations and Consent Decrees .......................................64 
Criminal Enforcement Against Individual Court Personnel ..................................................67 
Need for Additional Statutory Enforcement Authority .........................................................68 
Chapter 5: 

Findings and Recommendations ..............................................................................71 

FINDINGS ..................................................................................................................................71 
Overview................................................................................................................................71 
Targeting ................................................................................................................................72 
Ability to Pay Determination .................................................................................................72 
Conflicts of Interest ...............................................................................................................72 
Data Availability ....................................................................................................................73 
Fee Alternatives .....................................................................................................................73 
Counsel ..................................................................................................................................73 
Driver’s License Suspensions ................................................................................................73 
Department of Justice Enforcement Actions .........................................................................74 
State Reforms.........................................................................................................................74 

Table of Contents
RECOMMENDATIONS ............................................................................................................75 
Ability to Pay Determination .................................................................................................75 
Conflicts of Interest ...............................................................................................................75 
Data Availability ....................................................................................................................75 
Driver’s License Suspensions ................................................................................................75 
Fee Alternatives and Payment ...............................................................................................75 
Counsel ..................................................................................................................................76 
Department of Justice Enforcement Actions .........................................................................76 
State Reforms.........................................................................................................................77 
COMMISSIONERS’ STATEMENTS ..........................................................................................79 
Chair Catherine E. Lhamon Statement, in which Vice-Chair Timmons Goodson
and Commissioner Kladney Concur ........................................................................................79 
Vice Chair Patricia Timmons-Goodson Statement, in which Chair Lhamon and
Commissioners Adegbile and Kladney Concur .......................................................................81 
Commissioner Karen K. Narasaki Statement, in which Vice-Chair Timmons
Goodson Concurs .....................................................................................................................89 
Commissioner David Kladney Statement, in which Vice-Chair Timmons
Goodson Concurs .....................................................................................................................99 
Commissioner Gail Heriot Statement .......................................................................................175 
Commissioner Peter N. Kirsanow Statement............................................................................193 
Tables ...........................................................................................................................................196 
Table 1: States With Fines and Fees Reports: ..........................................................................196 
Table 2: States With Pilot Programs and/or Initiatives Related to Fines and Fees...................203 
Table 3: States With Ability-To-Pay Standards........................................................................209 
Table 4: States With Changed Laws and/ or Court Rules on Fines and Fees:..........................214 
Table 5: States and Citations for Providing Interpreters Free of Charge .................................219 

iii


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