Mississippi city, PD violating Constitution by jailing people over unpaid fees: DOJ

Mississippi cities and police departments have been told by the Justice Department that it is unconstitutional to jail people for unpaid fines without determining whether they have the ability to pay them.

A letter sent Thursday from the Department of Justice to the city of Lexington and the Lexington Police Department found that the current practice violates the 14th Amendment, which prohibits wealth-based detention.

“In recent guidance to state courts across the country, the Department of Justice pointed to the United States Supreme Court’s repeated rulings that “the government may not imprison individuals solely because of their inability to pay a fine.” says the letter.

According to the Department of Justice, the city and LPD violated the above guidelines in two ways: by requiring arrestees to pay outstanding fines before being released, and by issuing warrants for unpaid fines to arrest them. It is said that there is

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The Department of Justice has notified the City of Lexington and its police department that it is illegal to jail someone for unpaid fees or fines before determining whether they can actually pay the fees or fines. (St. Petersburg)

On April 20, 2023, the Department of Justice issued a “Dear Colleague” letter to the court explaining that a person cannot be imprisoned for unpaid fines until it is determined that the person has the means to pay the bill. If there is no ability to pay, the prison sentence is illegal.

“It’s time to end our two-tier justice system, where income determines whether someone goes free or goes to prison,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clark of the Civil Rights Division told the Justice Department. news release.

Clark described the practice as “unlawful” and said the enforcement of unfair fines and fees “traps people and their families in a vicious cycle of poverty and punishment.”

Todd Gee, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, echoed this sentiment in a statement, noting that “one-third of Lexington residents live below the poverty line.”

Lexington, Mississippi police cruiser

Lexington city and police officials told the Department of Justice at a meeting Thursday that they will work to ensure fines and fees are collected legally. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

“Unreasonable fines and fees undermine rehabilitation goals and undermine community confidence in the justice system,” Gee said. “Every step we take toward fair and just policing rebuilds trust. Lexington and LPD can take those steps now while the investigation is ongoing.”

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The letter asks the city and police department to determine whether there are “systematic violations of the Constitution and federal laws related to use of force, enforcement, searches, arrests, discriminatory enforcement, and police rights.” It was filed as part of an ongoing Department of Justice investigation into freedom of speech. “

The investigation began on November 8, 2023.

“While the investigation continues, the Department of Justice has determined that it is critically important to identify these violations now rather than wait for the investigation to conclude,” the letter said.


Justice Department officials met Thursday with city and police leaders to discuss concerns over unpaid fines and incarceration for fines, and Lexington officials reportedly said they will work to ensure fines and fees are collected legally. Ta.



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