Legal
3:08 pm
Thu August 4, 2011

ACLU challenges "pay or stay" jail cases

The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging the sentences of five Michigan residents who were jailed because they could not pay their court fines.

Michael Steinberg of the ACLU of Michigan says judges are supposed to hold a hearing to prove whether an individual is too poor to pay a fine.

Steinberg says in the five misdemeanor cases they’re challenging, those hearings didn’t happen and the people were locked up. They’re called “pay or stay” cases.

“We believe that jailing people because they are poor is a shameful waste of resources, it’s unconstitutional and it must be changed,” Steinberg says. "The court is required to set up some sort of payment plan, or have alternative community service. The courts have been very clear that debtors’ prisons are not allowed and we cannot send somebody to jail for fines that they are unable to pay.”

The cases in the ACLU suit include catching a fish out of season, a minor in possession and driving with a suspended license.