NEW YORK, April 3, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- The Fund for Modern Courts today released a report: Fines and Fees and Jail Time in New York Town and Village Justice Courts: The Unseen Violation of Constitutional and State Law, which found that many of the 1,300 town and village justice courts throughout New York state ignore the law by issuing bench warrants and jail terms for defendants who are unable to pay fines and fees due to their poverty.
Amelia T.R. Starr, Esq., Vice Chair of the Fund for Modern Courts and the primary author of the report, said, "Failure to pay the fines imposed by the justice courts can result in significant consequences for a defendant, including imprisonment until the fine is collected. Our report makes it clear that imprisonment for failure to pay fines is not limited to a few counties but stretches across New York."
Denise Kronstadt, Esq., Deputy Executive Director and Director of Advocacy, co-author of the report, said, "Town and village justice courts impact the lives of New Yorkers every day, in matters ranging from intimate partner violence, evictions, criminal arraignments, driving violations and parking tickets and make decisions about whether to issue an Order of Protection in intimate partner violence matters, evict families from their homes, enforce building codes, arraigning defendants, and ordering fines and fees in parking tickets and driving violations."
Federal and state law governing treatment of an indigent defendant who cannot pay his or her fines are clear. Before a court may imprison a person for nonpayment of a fine, the court must first make a factual determination based on evidence as to whether that person has the ability to pay. If the person is unable to pay, then an alternative to imprisonment must be found.
Modern Courts recommends:
- amending New York law to require courts to conduct an ability to pay hearing automatically before sentencing a defendant to incarceration for failure to pay rather than placing the burden on defendants to ask; (b) require courts to consider ability to pay before fines are imposed, and not just after a payment has been missed; and (c) give courts discretion to modify the fines in the first instance;
- increasing training for justice courts regarding constitutional and statutory requirements and best practices for imposition and payment of fines;
- implementing better data collection on a centralized basis to monitor the imposition and collection of fines, including data concerning the imposition of jail time for failure to pay; and
- forming a judicial task force to study the imposition and enforcement of fines in justice courts and suggested improvements to ensure that the law is followed and there is a more just and fair process.
SOURCE Fund for Modern Courts