We believe the United States doesn’t imprison people for failing to pay their bills — and that’s generally true — unless, that is, you happen to live in Florida and you owe the state court system money.
Florida, the new debtor prison state, will put you in jail if you can’t pay off your court fees and fines because Florida needs your money to pay their bills.
Constitutional law does not allow people to be jailed for their inability to pay fines and fees — but Florida claims they are not jailing people for being poor, but rather for “violating court orders” … that require the fines be paid:
Advocates for the poor have urged other states not to follow Florida’s example of squeezing defendants harder to make up for budget cuts. Rebekah Diller, deputy director of the justice program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, said the state’s system wasted resources “to get blood from a stone.” Judges, she said, should not become “debt collectors in robes,” which she called both demeaning to the judges and humiliating for the people who must stand before them….
It can be expensive to be arrested. Nancy Daniels, a Florida public defender who works in Tallahassee, said fines and fees for a first offense on third-degree felonies like credit card fraud or possession of cocaine are around $500 — $340 in court costs, a $100 prosecution fee and $50 for the public defender application fee. If the defendant cannot pay up front, starting a payment plan costs $25.
As the economy weakens, the will of gentle people and the sensibility of the common morality become the first iconic victims against the state’s vested interest in survival at all costs against its least protected citizenry — and more and more municipalities will line up the poor at the bar and have them pay ever-increasing fees in order to cover budget shortfalls and to ease the pain of the recovery.
The poor pay because the better off among us have the means and the methods to fight back against this sort of cruel and unlawful taxation.