August 10, 2011
Out-of-Work Angler Jailed For License Violation in MI
By Chad Love
Here's an interesting question: should you be thrown in jail for being too poor to pay a misdemeanor fishing violation? It happened to a Michigan man. Now the ACLU is suing on his behalf on the grounds that failure to pay a misdemeanor fine is, in essence, a return to the debtor's prison era.
From this story on credit.com:
Kyle Dewitt spent three days in jail because he was too poor to pay a fishing fine. Last spring, Dewitt was ticketed and fined $215 for fishing smallmouth bass out of season (Dewitt disputes the charge). But Dewitt, 19 years old with a fiancée and a nine-month-old son, lost his job at a grocery store in 2010 and has been out of work ever since. He couldn’t afford the $215 fine. Instead he offered to pay $100 up front, and repay the rest in a month. But Judge Raymond Voet of Ionia, Mich., refused. The judge sentenced Dewitt to three days in jail. The American Civil Liberties Union paid to break Dewitt out. Now the group is suing on behalf of Dewitt and four others in Michigan who were jailed because they were too poor to pay misdemeanor fines. “Long thought to be a relic of the 19th century, debtors’ prisons are still alive and well in Michigan,” Kary Moss, executive director of the Michigan ACLU, said in a press release. “Jailing our clients because they are poor is not only unconstitutional, it’s unconscionable and a shameful waste of resources.”
Using a rule called “pay or stay,” judges in Michigan can decide to keep people in jail who have been found guilty of misdemeanors but who cannot afford to pay their fines. (Dewitt’s case is an anomaly, since he says he wasn’t fishing out of season, and he was never found guilty by a jury.)