Could you be sent to jail for failing to pay a fine?

On top of facing possible jail time for a drunk-driving conviction, some drivers also face hefty fines as well. Coupled with attorney and courtroom fees, this debt can create considerable financial problems for some people that may be unable to make payments in a timely manner.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on three separate occasions that “people can’t be sent to jail simply for being too poor to pay their court fines and fees,” a recent investigative report conducted by NPR points out that this is happening in states across the nation, including here in Washington.

Although a court may not send a person to jail because they are too poor to pay, a court can send a person to jail if they have the ability to pay but willingly refuse too. This creates considerable problems though because it is up to the judge’s discretion to determine a person’s financial situation and whether they are able to pay or not.

To our east, in Benton County, Superior Court Judge Robert Swisher says he bases his judgments on how a person presents themselves in the courtroom. A person who appears to be wearing expensive clothing or has “thousands of dollars worth of tattoos” could find themselves at the wrong end of an assumption that could mean jail time rather than leniency. And it’s entirely possible too that this assumption is also wrong.

Although a Golden criminal defense attorney would likely point out to a judge that it is unlawful to send you to jail for failing to pay court fees and fines, in at least 43 states access to a public defender now comes at a cost. People who are unable to pay court fines and fees would likely also be unable to pay for this valuable legal service as well, meaning more people could end up in jail for not even committing a crime.



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