In the movie, Lethal Weapon 4, Chris Rock tells an alleged criminal, “You got the right to an attorney. If you can’t afford an attorney we’ll provide you with the dumbest fuckin’ lawyer on earth.”
They might not provide the alleged criminal with the dumbest lawyer, but they probably won’t provide any lawyer without charging the accused for his public defender. This is a new trend and most states at least have some kind of user fees, application fees or other fees. The public defenders mostly agree with this charge because they are so overworked and underpaid. And in fact, NPR, in All Things Considered with Robert Siegel on May 20, 2014 states that “they can eventually be charged the full cost of their representation”–and that can run thousands of dollars.
The court system is charging the accused (who most likely is in poverty) instead of paying the charge through state taxes. The government allocates very little money to public defenders. How then can a person get a fair trial? Shapiro states, “There’d been cuts in state and city funding for the entire criminal justice system.” So courts are turning more and more to these user fees that the accused cannot pay.
What happened to the Constitution? What happened to Chris Rock’s words, “If you can’t afford an attorney we’ll provide you the with dumbest fuckin’ lawyer on earth.” That’s not even true. The Supreme Court in 1963 ruled that indigent, criminal defendants have the right to a lawyer. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you.
It is unbelievable the way we treat those in poverty.
NPR in ALL THINGS CONSIDERED with Audi Cornish, Robert Siegel and Joseph Shapiro has revealed much about the justice system. It is a debtors’ jail and prison for those in poverty. It is hard to believe but nowadays defendants have to pay for every aspect of their court appearance in many states–costs of their own trials and sentences, often including jail time. My stepdaughters, in Calla Lilies: A True Story of Four Sisters and Their Struggle to Survive Abuse, Addiction, and Poverty in America have endured the same injustices. In some states, the warrants for the arrest is even charged to the defendant. And now a new development. Defendants in poverty are having to pay for their public defender. Along with this are a number of other charges: 41 states allow a charge for room and board and in 44 states they can charge for a probation or parole office. My stepdaughters have often had to “sit it out in jail” to pay for their fines and court costs. Many poor people end up having to pay thousands of dollars for misdemeanor cases such as driving with a suspended license, failing to put a kid in a car seat, and public intoxication. I have one stepdaughter who spent a good deal of time paying off her fine AFTER her sentence for public intoxication. In the case of my stepdaughters, all were sexually molested as children in foster homes and I think instead of punishment for misdemeanors, the court should realize that these violations against them is causing their behavior. Where are the counsellors to help so many of these people who have deep-seated problems? How many of the people mentioned in the NPR article “As Court Fees Rise, the Poor Are Paying the Price” also have a background of abuse that needs to be addressed?
“The Nation” magazine published an article about the return of the debtors prisons in their April 14, 2014 issue written by Hannah Rappleye and Lisa Riordan Seville. It mentions so many injustices that I have mentioned in my book Calla Lilies: A True Story of Four Sisters and Their Struggle to Survive Abuse, Addiction, and Poverty in America. The article in “The Nation” was about the small town of Harpersville, Alabama where outside companies collect the fines for the county for abuses such as driving without a license, public intoxication, and other misdemeanors. It is a huge money-making opportunity for these companies and adds additional costs to be paid. My stepdaughters live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and have very similar problems to cope with. However, in Tuscaloosa they deal directly with the court and not with an outside company. This makes things a little easier. These abuses, I must add, are common across the country. If a person in poverty can’t afford a license and ends up getting a ticket, one is then fined and has to pay court costs. If the person cannot pay all these costs (which can add up to hundreds of dollars) in Tuscaloosa and many other places, they can “sit it out in jail.” By “sitting it out in jail” they are paying off their fine at a certain amount per day–say $35, $50, $75 a day for example–depending on the county. This is nothing but a debtor’s jail for those in poverty who cannot afford to pay the fine and court costs. Usually additional classes are required after getting out of jail. These classes also cost money and often the person doesn’t attend because they don’t have the money for the classes or transportation to get there. Then a warrant is issued for them for not attending the classes, and they again have to go to court and pay a fine and court costs, and start over with their classes. There has to be a better way to deal with these misdemeanors! Even community service sounds like a more humane option. So often these folks end up losing their low-paying jobs because they have to go to court, attend classes, and serve time in jail.
It becomes a revolving door into the jails and out again, just to be picked up again. Often they have to make bond (if they can) and then proceed with the revolving door.
This is a terrible injustice of our penal system that pushes people further into poverty.
This is a true story of my four stepdaughters from a previous marriage. Their stories include heart-rending accounts of physical and sexual abuse in foster homes and spousal abuse in marriage, the unwarranted loss of children, living on the inimum wage, and repeated ER visits resulting in pain-medication addictions.Their lively and impassioned personal conversations read like a novel but are absolutely true.
My website for the book is http://www.callaliliesatruestory.com. Please take a look. I am also on Amazon and Kindle.
This blog site will mostly be about the social issues we face in our country. Many of these issues relate to the Calla Lilies. Some of the discussions will cover other social issues–articles and information I read about each day.