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Monthly Archives: March 2017

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Alabama Town Agrees in Settlement To Stop Operating Debtors Prison

March 14, 2017

https://www.splcenter.org/news/2017/03/14/alabama-town-agrees-settlement-stop-operating-debtors%E2%80%99-prison

 

The SPLC has reached a settlement with Alexander City, Alabama, and its police chief to resolve a federal class action lawsuit over the operation of a modern-day debtors’ prison in which people were jailed for being too poor to pay fines and court fees for traffic tickets and misdemeanors.

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The settlement has been preliminarily approved by the U.S. District Court in Montgomery. The court will hold a final hearing in August to decide whether to formally approve the agreement.

In a town where almost 30 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, at least 190 impoverished people were jailed for nonpayment within a two-year period. The SPLC, with co-counsel Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, filed suit to stop the abuse in September 2015. The lawsuit described multiple violations of the U.S. Constitution and Alabama law.

“Hundreds of impoverished residents have faced unconstitutional and unjust treatment in Alexander City simply because they were too poor to pay fines and fees,” said Sam Brooke, SPLC deputy legal director. “The shuttering of this modern-day debtors’ prison, along with the monetary award, brings justice to many of the people who were unfairly targeted for being poor.”

Under terms of the settlement, the city and its insurer will pay $680,000. The class members – 190 people who were jailed for nonpayment between September 8, 2013, and September 8, 2015 – will be compensated at least $500 for each day they were illegally jailed.

When a person appeared in municipal court, the judge did not ask if they could pay the fines and costs. There was generally no discussion about the right to a lawyer, and they were not appointed in cases involving fines and costs – depriving defendants of their right to counsel. People who could not pay in full were directed to a back hallway and arrested, even when they could make a partial payment and needed time to come up with the rest.

Rather than be offered community service or a payment plan, indigent defendants were held at the city jail until someone paid the fine or until they “sat out” their time at a rate of $20 per day – or $40 if they performed jobs such as laundry, cleaning or washing police cars.

By jailing people for their inability to pay, the city violated their 14th Amendment right to due process and equal protection under the law. The arrests also violated Alabama law and the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, as well as the Sixth Amendment, which protects individuals’ right to counsel.

Plaintiff Amanda Underwood was jailed twice for fines she could not pay. She appeared in the Alexander City Municipal Court without counsel on April 24, 2014, her son’s birthday, and pleaded guilty to a traffic violation. The judge ordered her to pay a $205 fine, which she could not afford while earning $8 an hour and taking care of her children.

Unable to pay, Underwood was booked into the jail, along with five other people, including the father of her two youngest children. Because she was desperate to be released and be with her son on his birthday, Underwood was forced to call her ex-boyfriend to borrow the money.

In June 2015, Underwood appeared in court again without counsel and was fined $250 after pleading guilty to driving without a license. Unemployed at the time and receiving limited Social Security benefits, she was again unable to pay and was immediately arrested and booked into the city jail. She spent five days in jail, washing laundry to secure an early release.

“I am glad the city is going to pay everyone who they jailed, to try to undo some of the harm they caused,” Underwood said. “I am so proud that this lawsuit has made a difference. I hope it will help many others, especially those like me who have been unfairly punished for being poor.”

The debtors’ prison practice is particularly widespread in the Deep South.

Last June, the SPLC sued to stop the same kind of operation in Bogalusa, Louisiana. The city court, which has suspended its practices under a temporary agreement, was funding its operations on the backs of the poor, relying on court costs and fees to help fund its operations. This created a conflict of interest – an incentive for the judge to find individuals guilty and to coerce payment by threatening jail.

In Alabama, substantial progress has been made toward eliminating these practices.

In November 2016, Montgomery Municipal Judge Lester Hayes was suspended without pay for his role in jailing the poor for nonpayment, and Perry County Circuit Judge Marvin Wiggins was censured in January 2016 for forcing the indigent to choose between jail and donating blood.

“Courts are being sued and forced to change their procedures, and judges have been censured and suspended,” Brooke said. “And now a municipality has been forced to pay those it illegally jailed. We hope and believe all courts are now getting the message: It is unacceptable to punish the poor just because of their poverty.”

SPLC Stops Debtors Alabama s Prison

 

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Sr, Director:

Alfredo Nobre Leite  DNI 18.221.024  http://marimba37@outlook.com   Villa Ballester, 5 de Marzo de 2017.

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Señor Director:

Es inadmisible e improcedente que el Departamento de Estado de Estados Unidos (EE.UU.) se entrometa  en nuestros asuntos internos, ignorando que la República Argentina es una nación federal y la Justicia de Jujuy independiente, al calificar la detención de la piquetera Milagro Sala de “arbitraria” sin conocimientos de las causas judiciales por las cuales está detenida desde el 16 de enero del año pasado, procesada y acusada de los delitos de extorsión, asociación ilícita y fraude, y, también, por encubrimiento de una tentativa de homicidio, y, además, por “una causa por fraude da la administración pública por 29 millones de pesos, estando imputada por asociación ilícita en dos causas, y, en otra, por un faltante de 800 millones de pesos en la construcción de viviendas”. La tentativa de homicidio hace referencia a una causa de 2012 donde “hubo un enfrentamiento entre dos grupos integrantes de Tupac Amaru por manejo de territorio, donde se encuentra detenido uno de los supuestos sicarios”. Según el fiscal anticorrupción de Jujuy, Joaquín Millán Quintana. la CIDH y la OEA, y -agrego- el Departamento de Estado “incurren en errores sustanciales por tomar informes de los patrocinantes, sin considerar la cantidad de prueba recogida en los expedientes judiciales, ni la responsabilidad de Sala como líder de una organización criminal, dirigida a defraudar al Estado a través de coacciones, tanto de organizaciones sociales, cuanto de funcionarios públicos”.

Sería imprescindible que el Departamento de Estado del logorreico y desbocado presidente Donald Trump, se ocupara de sus propios asuntos, que en el acto de su asunción  a la presidencia de EE.UU., se produjo un histórico e inédito rechazo a ese advenedizo primer mandatario, que fue recibido con una rechifla y movilizaciones femeninas a su veta canallesca al insultar a la mujer, quien ha demostrado una mentalidad conflictiva, controvertida e inhumana, de abrogar por decreto el llamado “Obamacare” -que protege fundamentalmente a quienes no pueden pagar un tratamiento médico-, y en el aspecto geopolítico pretenda abrogar el Tratado de Libre Comercio entre EE.UU., Canadá y México (NAFTA), de 1992, quiera hacer otro tanto con la alianza con la Unión Europea (UE), anular la participación de EE.UU.. en el Tratado de Libre Comercio entre todas las naciones  de la costa del Pacífico, que incluye a Japón y China. Y, por otro lado, ha decretado de facto la guerra a las naciones del Medio Oriente, por prejuicio religioso, que son musulmanes, a quienes mete en la misma bolsa que el EI o ISSIS, tratándolas de criminales; insultó a héroes norteamericanos muertos en la guerra de Irak, que eran de religión mahometana, y llevar a cabo una política racista y expulsar a latinoamericanos residentes legalmente hace años en EE.UU.; y, al mismo tiempo, prácticamente se alía al enemigo de EE.UU. y todo el Occidente, el presidente de Rusia, Vladimiro Putin (que pretende anexar las provincias orientales de Ucrania, de ahí la guerra actual). Parece que Trump, en relaciones exteriores, economía y geopolítica es un ignorante, y con él EE.UU. entrará en cono de sombra, desquiciamientos y desequilibrios en todos los aspectos socioeconómicos, póliticos y estratégicos. Por lo cual, el Departamento de Estado, antes de meterse en nuestros asuntos internos, debe ocuparse de sus propios problemas, que EE.UU., como superpotencia, está en decadencia por carencia de líderes con altura de miras, visión y determinación, como un Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Con cordiales saludos.

Alfredo Nobre Leite

DNI 18.221.024

http://marimba37@outlook.com