Featured - Six months later

Six Months Later: ArchCity Defenders’ Municipal Courts White Paper

Featured - Six months later

This paper was written by Thomas B. Harvey, executive director and cofounder of ArchCity Defenders. Michael-John Voss, John McAnnar, Megan Conn, Sean Janda, and Sophia Keskey contributed to the finished product. Voss and McAnnar are the cofounders of ArchCity Defenders. Conn, Janda, and Keskey are interns from Washington University. 

Thomas B. Harvey is an attorney and the executive director and cofounder of ArchCity Defenders (ACD), a nonprofit law firm providing holistic legal services to the indigent in the St. Louis region and pursuing policy advocacy and impact litigation arising from its direct legal services. Since its founding in 2009, Harvey has overseen the growth of ArchCity Defenders from an all-volunteer, part-time staff of three, into a paid staff of eleven, a network of volunteer attorneys, and social work and legal interns. With no startup funding and only the work of cofounders Michael-John Voss and John McAnnar to rely on in the first three years, ArchCity Defenders has helped thousands of people remove the legal barriers that prevent them from obtaining the services they need to avoid or exit homelessness.

His current work focuses on the way the legal system disproportionately impacts poor people and communities of color to create or maintain poverty. He has been interviewed by the Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and BusinessWeek as well as featured on MSNBC and NPR to provide valuable context in explaining the distrust between the people of the region and the authorities following the killing of Mike Brown.

Harvey oversees ACD’s groundbreaking litigation and advocacy work on the systemic abuses in St. Louis’ municipal courts, which includes using international and domestic law to hold municipalities and government officials accountable for abuses; challenging racial injustice; and combating illegal policies such as debtors’ prisons and deprivation of the right to counsel.

He is a 2009 graduate of Saint Louis University School of Law, gained ABD status at University of California Irvine in 2004 in French literature, and was awarded his MA in French literature in 2001 from the University of Missouri-Columbia. He has a bachelor’s degree in French from Wabash College.

Abstract

This paper presents the findings of ArchCity Defenders’ study of municipal courts; documents challenges to that system following the death of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; and proposes next steps for comprehensive reform. The paper shows how the poor and communities of color are disproportionately stopped, fined, and jailed for nonviolent traffic stops in violation of the United States and Missouri Constitution in order to raise revenue for small towns. These practices destabilize communities of color, create hostility toward government, and prevent the homeless from accessing necessary services. Finally, the paper presents litigation, advocacy, and legislative efforts to end these practices as well as a broader systemic approach.

Introduction

ArchCity Defenders provides holistic legal advocacy to the homeless and poor in St. Louis, representing people in criminal and civil legal matters while connecting our clients with social services to address the root cause of their poverty. Our primary goal is to remove the legal barriers preventing our clients from accessing the social services necessary to exit or avoid homelessness.

For the last five years, we have primarily focused on representation in municipal courts that have jurisdiction over mostly traffic-related offenses. We were prompted to conduct a court-watching program after directly representing clients in these courts and hearing stories of their experiences. Our program aimed to more closely observe what impact the municipal court system has on our clients’ lives. Law students observed sixty courts and recorded their findings in a questionnaire modeled on a program at the Southern Center for Human Rights. Our findings indicate that communities of color and the poorest St. Louisans are subjected to an unnecessarily expensive and incredibly inefficient network of municipal courts that siphon away vast amounts of their money to support a system seemingly designed to maintain the status quo, no matter how much it hurts the communities the system is supposed to serve.

Below is a summation of our findings of systemic practices and resulting effects on our clients:

  1. Cities, police, and courts comprise the key players in a broader system that disproportionately impacts poor people and communities of color.
  2. Courthouse policies and punishments—including jail time for inability to pay fines, closing courts to the public, refusing to allow children in the courtroom, and disproportionately fining the poorest of individuals—violate the Constitution, harm public confidence in the judiciary system and local government, and have compounding effects on our clients’ lives.
  3. As a part-time role, judges can be employed as both private attorneys and county prosecutors across St. Louis County municipalities.
  4. Discrepancies between salaries in relation to job requirements, as well as the process for selecting/assigning judges and prosecutors to their positions, highlight an inequitable incentive structure that negatively impacts our clients.
  5. Racial discrepancies in the makeup of the municipal court system (including police officers) vis-a-vis the communities they serve (that is, predominately White versus predominately Black) and statistical evidence of traffic citations suggest racially motivated tactics that benefit the revenue stream of these municipalities.

Overall, we observed that the poor—particularly, communities of color—suffer significantly in their forced dealings with St. Louis’ municipal court system. While nonimpoverished people may be occasionally ticketed for an expired vehicle registration, outdated inspections, or driving without insurance—likely resulting in nothing more than a minor inconvenience or annoyance—the same citations can have compounding effects for the poor. Poor people and communities of color are pulled over more often, they are let go without a ticket less frequently, and they are in all likelihood the only group to see the inside of a jail cell for minor ordinance violations. Yet, such violations may exist as a consequence of their economic instability, with effects culminating in a single traffic stop, quickly leading to daunting fines, loss of driving privileges, and jail time for unpaid debt.

Matters are worsened by policies that close courts to the public and allow incarceration for the inability to pay debts. Our clients reported incidents of indigent mothers who “failed to appear” in court, resulting in warrants issued for their arrest. The reality is that, despite having arrived early or on time to court, they were turned away because that particular municipality prohibited the presence of children in court. Further, municipalities fail to inform indigent defendants of their right to legal counsel, fail to appoint said counsel, and refuse to make reasonable bond assessments or conduct the constitutionally required inquiry into their ability to pay. As a result, family members have been forced to wait outside courtrooms while loved ones represented themselves in front of a judge and a prosecutor. Most devastating, however, is that these policies push the poor further into poverty and prevent the homeless from accessing the housing, treatment, and jobs they so desperately need to regain stability in their lives. These practices are ongoing and violate the most fundamental protections of the United States and Missouri Constitutions. They are the product of a disordered, fragmented, and inefficient approach to criminal justice. Municipalities in St. Louis County fan the flames of racial tension, oppression, and disenfranchisement by appropriating the courts to act as governmental debt-collection agencies, implicitly charging them to ensure the municipalities’ fine-generated revenues sufficiently maintain government operations.

Method

We observed over sixty courts during our court watching program and obtained sworn statements from clients, law students, attorneys, and other individuals we encountered. Roughly half of the courts we observed did not engage in the widespread illegal and harmful practices described above while we were present. However, approximately thirty of those courts did engage in at least one of these practices. Three courts—Bel-Ridge, Florissant, and Ferguson—were chronic offenders and serve as prime examples of how such practices violate the fundamental rights of the poor, undermine public confidence in the judicial system, and perpetuate injustice. In this paper, we will focus on those three municipalities.

To begin, we provide an overview of the Missouri municipal court system, outlining how these courts operate and the revenue they earn. We discuss the negative implications this system has on the public’s confidence in their local government and its courts, and we describe how these courts and the policies they employ lead to job loss and homelessness amongst the indigent population. Finally, we detail the financial cost of operating the municipal courts and incarcerating the indigent who cannot afford to pay the fines levied against them.

We conclude with proposed solutions to these issues and a strategic approach for implementation. This plan includes installing public defenders in each municipal court, setting fines based upon the defendant’s income, consolidating or eliminating municipal courts, and developing alternatives to fines and incarceration.

Overview of Municipal Courts in St. Louis County

Composition and Jurisdiction of St. Louis County

St. Louis County comprises ninety municipalities, ranging in population from twelve to over fifty thousand. The density of the municipalities is such that it is possible to drive through eight separate cities in less than four miles on a stretch of Natural Bridge Road from Bel-Ridge to Pine Lawn. Eighty-one municipalities have their own court to enforce their municipal codes across their slivers of St. Louis County.

Each municipal court has jurisdiction over its city’s ordinances. Courts can imprison individuals for ordinance violations and keep them confined until the fines and costs of the suit against them are paid or otherwise satisfied. As a result, these fines generate a substantial revenue stream.

These substantial revenue streams are supported by municipal practices that incentivize citations, prosecutions, and profiling of minority communities. For communities of color, this harassment is palpable in a way that does not require data. Nevertheless, the notion that minorities are harassed by police more often than Whites is statistically supported by the annual reports on racial disparities in police stops, prepared by the Missouri Attorney General’s office.[i] In other words, Blacks were 66 percent more likely than Whites to be stopped based on their respective proportions of the Missouri driving-age population in 2013.[ii] The data is similarly problematic in Bel-Ridge, Ferguson, and Florissant, as discussed below. 

Jurisdictions of Focus: Bel-Ridge, Ferguson, and Florissant

Bel-Ridge

The Village of Bel-Ridge is a small municipality located in northern St. Louis County. Bel-Ridge has 1,087 households and 2,737 residents,[iii] the vast majority of whom (83.1 percent) are African American.[iv] In addition, almost half (42.3 percent) of the residents are below the federal poverty level, with a median annual household income of $21,910; more than one-third (37 percent) of households receive food stamps.[v]

In spite of the relatively small and poor nature of the municipality, Bel-Ridge manages to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars every year in municipal court fines. In fact, Bel-Ridge’s 2014 budget projected $450,000 in fine revenue[vi]—or, an average of $450 per Bel-Ridge household—making municipal court fines the largest single source of revenue in the budget. In fiscal year 2013, Bel-Ridge’s municipal court disposed of 4,900 cases[vii] and issued 1,723 warrants.[viii] This means that in the last year alone, Bel-Ridge’s court system handled almost five cases and issued almost two warrants per single Bel-Ridge household.

Of course, such a municipal court operation does not come without costs to the municipality. In its 2014 budget, Bel-Ridge estimated that it would spend $101,200 to operate its municipal court, including nearly $100,000 in salaries and benefits for a part-time judge ($18,600), prosecuting attorney ($25,000), and court clerks ($38,350).[ix] By way of comparison, assistant public defenders in Missouri have a starting salary of $38,544 annually,[x] the average circuit attorney in St. Louis City earns $52,347 annually,[xi] and the average St. Louis City court judge earns $78,592 annually.[xii] Those are all full-time positions.

In Bel-Ridge, however, the judge and attorney work only three evenings—roughly twelve hours combined—per month, and both also operate private legal practices. To put it another way, the Bel-Ridge prosecuting attorney position is a part-time side job that requires 7.5 percent of the work required by full-time jobs but is paid at a rate amounting to 65 percent of what a Missouri assistant public defender makes, 48 percent of what the average Missouri circuit attorney makes, and 32 percent of what the average St. Louis–area city court judge earns.[xiii] The judge and prosecutor earn $129 and $174 per hour, respectively, for the approximately 144 that they each spend in court annually.

In Bel-Ridge, as in many other municipalities, the prosecuting attorney and judge are chosen not by constituents or through a merit system, but are instead handpicked by the Village Trustees. This system, of course, provides terribly misaligned incentives for both prosecutor and judge: the two positions are extraordinarily valuable to the individuals who hold them—providing enough additional annual income to send children to private school or public college, or to pad retirement accounts, fund vacations, or pay the mortgage—all for twelve hours of work each month. More disconcertingly, the undeniable consequence of these individuals’ positions as employees of the Village of Bel-Ridge is their strong incentive to ensure that Bel-Ridge receives enough fine revenue to cover both their salaries and those of their peers. This is undoubtedly a difficult position for well-paid part-time municipal employees to manage, but even the mere existence of these jobs is at odds with the ideals of fairness and justice that ought to characterize the criminal courts.

The Village of Bel-Ridge regularly detains individuals who are unable to pay imposed fines. This choice adds substantial costs for the municipality, including $45,000 (according to the Village’s 2014 budget) to jail these individuals. Moreover, because Bel-Ridge does not have its own detention facility, it must take one of its three on-duty police officers (who make $16.47, on average, each hour) away from preventing violent crime to transport ordinance violators between the jail and the courthouse.[xiv]

Ferguson

Ferguson is a city located in northern St. Louis County, with 21,203 residents living in 8,192 households.[xv] Most (67 percent) residents are African American, while the remainder (29 percent) is mostly White.[xvi] Ferguson’s unemployment rate is 14.3 percent,[xvii] more than double that of both St. Louis County (6.2 percent)[xviii] and the State of Missouri (6.6 percent).[xix] Ten percent of the city’s 9,105 housing units are vacant.[xx] Nearly one-quarter (22 percent) of residents live below the poverty level, including 35.3 percent of children under eighteen, and 21.7 percent received food stamps in the last year.[xxi]

Despite Ferguson’s poverty, the second largest source of city revenue is made up of fines and court fees—$2,635,400.[xxii] In 2013, the Ferguson Municipal Court disposed of 24,532 warrants[xxiii] and 12,018 cases,[xxiv] or three warrants and 1.5 cases per household. According to a court employee, the docket for an average court session may include as many as 1,500 cases.[xxv] Assuming an 80 percent conviction rate,[xxvi] the average fine in a case resulting in a guilty verdict is $275 for all cases.

In addition to such heavy legal prosecution, Ferguson and other municipal courts engage in a number of operational procedures that make it increasingly difficult for defendants to navigate the courts. For example, a Ferguson court employee reported that the bench routinely starts hearing cases thirty minutes before the appointed time and locks the doors to the building as early as five minutes after the official hour, a practice that could easily lead a defendant arriving just a few moments late with an additional criminal charge for failing to appear pursuant to a court summons.[xxvii]

To carry out its work, the Ferguson Municipal Court employs a judge, prosecuting attorney, assistant prosecuting attorney, as well as three full-time and three part-time court clerks. Residents of Ferguson have no direct voice in determining who holds the powerful position of the prosecuting attorney, since he or she is appointed by the city attorney with approval of the city manager.

Unlike Bel-Ridge and Florissant, Ferguson does not publicize the salaries of its prosecutor and judge. However, in 2013, the total forecasted expenditure for municipal court personnel amounted to $221,700, with an additional $59,500 categorized as “professional services”; $37,100 was spent on supplies and services.[xxviii] The Ferguson Municipal Court holds three sessions per month, meaning that Ferguson spent $318,300 to fund just thirty-six court sessions, or $8,841.67 per session. To be more specific, at three hours or less per session, each hour of court costs the City of Ferguson approximately $2,950.

For the time being, Ferguson relies on the St. Louis County Jail (located in Clayton) to hold its inmates beyond seventy-two hours.[xxix] City police officers are required to take time out of their patrol schedules to make the forty-minute round trip necessary to transport prisoners to and from the facility. At any given time, Ferguson has eight patrol officers on duty for its 21,203 citizens,[xxx] or 3.8 officers for every 1,000 citizens. Although the officer-to-citizen ratio is comparable to that of St. Louis City (2.5 officers for every 1,000 citizens), even one Ferguson officer tasked with court duty rather than patrolling the regular beat decreases the Ferguson Police Department’s ability to police violent crime. Thus, any time an officer drives to Clayton, the remaining force of seven officers must share the burden of protecting 2,650 citizens.

Florissant

Florissant is the largest municipality in St. Louis County, with a population of 52,363. More than a quarter (26.8 percent) of the population is African American, while a large majority (69.3 percent) is White. The unemployment rate is 7.9 percent, slightly over the unemployment rates of both St. Louis County (6.8 percent) and the State of Missouri (6.6 percent), and 8.6 percent of the population is below the poverty line.[xxxi]

In 2013, just under one-third (32.9 percent) of the cases disposed by the Florissant Municipal Court resulted in a warrant,[xxxii] meaning that Florissant issued roughly one warrant for every six residents.[xxxiii] The municipality collected $695,201 from warrants, amounting to approximately one-quarter of the court’s $3,000,000 revenue. The third largest source of revenue was fines, falling behind only sales and utilities taxes.

Florissant dedicates significant financial and personnel resources to operate its court system. In 2013, $3,861 was spent on prisoner-related supplies for incarcerated individuals.[xxxiv] Further, it spends over $1.75 million to run the municipal court, in which 90.6 percent of filed cases are “other traffic” violations.

Out of the 2013 annual budget, $473,668 paid municipal court salaries, $408,900 went to professional services, and $9,300 to office supplies.[xxxv] Although only a part-time position, with roughly two regular court appearances a month or twenty-six per year, the appointed judge earns $50,000 annually—only slightly less than the full-time judge of the St. Louis City Court. The Florissant prosecuting attorney, also a part-time employee, earns $56,060 for only twelve regular court appearances (with additional office hours). In addition, the assistant prosecuting attorney is paid $33,158 for the same number of appearances.

By comparison, the starting salary for full-time public defenders in Missouri is $38,544, and the average state-employed circuit attorney earns $52,347 per year. In other words, Florissant’s part-time prosecuting attorney works roughly 4 percent of a full-time job, but earns 145 percent of a full-time public defender’s salary and 102 percent of the average full-time circuit attorney’s salary. The only full-time position is that of a court clerk, whose annual salary is $46,530. Five assistant clerks cost Florissant another $191,360 per year, and reserve police officers are paid $37,700.[xxxvi]  

Specific Findings

Court Policies and Practices Raise Constitutional Concerns

Sixth Amendment Concerns

Although many municipal ordinance violations carry the possibility of jail time, nearly every municipality fails to provide lawyers for those who cannot afford counsel. As a result, unrepresented defendants often plead guilty without even knowing that they have a right to consult with a lawyer.[xxxvii] Defendants are also sentenced to probation and to the payment of unreasonable fines without a knowing, voluntary, and intelligent waiver of their constitutional right to counsel. Despite these defendants’ poverty, courts frequently levy exorbitant fines, sometimes amounting to more than three times his or her monthly income and without considering the person’s ability to pay or resulting consequences.

Even in cases where jail is not a possible sentence, an attorney plays a crucial role. The ability to resolve an ordinance violation often depends on the ability to hire an attorney and pay the fine(s): an attorney can appear on behalf of the violator and request for the prosecutor to submit a recommendation for disposition. Depending on the charge, the prosecuting attorney will recommend it be reduced to a charge less damaging to the violator’s record.[xxxviii] For instance, moving violations are often amended to non–moving violations upon the payment of a fine and court costs.

If a person has the money, the process works: a simple speeding ticket is amended to littering, an attorney is paid $50-$100,[xxxix] the municipality is paid $150-$200, and the defendant avoids points on his or her license as well as any possible increases to insurance costs. Neither the attorney nor the defendants even need to go to court. Since Missouri operates on a point system, automatically suspending or revoking driver’s licenses once a certain number of points accrue, it is crucial that such amendments are made when possible.

However, for those unable to afford counsel or pay fines, no recommendation is made, so no prosecutor makes the amendment. Consequently, the outcomes can be astoundingly different for the poor. Without representation from counsel, points are added to the cash-poor individual’s driver’s license as a result of the heightened charge, possibly resulting in suspension. The disproportionate impact of ticket citations on poor individuals compounds existing economic issues faced by the poorest populations. That individual still owes money to the municipality in addition to increased troubles surrounding the revocation of a license.

Due Process Concerns: Provisions of Payment Plans Are Inconsistent Across Jurisdictions and Result in Jail Time

While many courts expect payment in full and explicitly refuse to offer payment plans, others allow them—sometimes as low as $50 per month for qualifying individuals. However, if an individual cannot pay the amount in full before the scheduled court date, he or she must still appear in court on the scheduled date to provide an explanation. Missed court dates and the inability to pay fines often lead to the issuance of a warrant for the person’s arrest.

Defendants are entitled to a hearing to determine their ability to pay fines under Missouri law.[xl] Upon revocation of probation for failing to pay, defendants are again entitled to an inquiry into their ability to pay.[xli] Based on our observations, however, these hearings rarely occur. As a result, defendants are incarcerated for their poverty.

Arrests for the failure to pay fines often result in extended jail time. People who are arrested on unpaid fines frequently sit in jail for an extended period. They are routinely told that they may leave jail upon the payment of the money they owe. If they are too poor to pay, they remain incarcerated. There is no subsequent hearing into their ability to pay as required by the constitution. Because no municipality holds court on a daily basis, a person who is arrested on a warrant in one of these jurisdictions and who cannot pay the bond may spend as much as three weeks in jail waiting to see a judge. Any time in jail solely as a result of the inability to pay is a violation of the clear protections of the United States and Missouri Constitutions.

First Amendment Violation: Restricting Access to Public Courts

Until recently, many local courts denied access to the general public. When summoned to one of these courts, defendants face jail time for failing to appear. Some courts refuse to allow children in the courtroom, inhibiting those without access to child care from attending as requested. According to local judge Frank Vatterott, 37 percent of courts that responded to a survey unconstitutionally closed the courts to nondefendants.[xlii]

In addition to being a clear violation of the First Amendment, defendants are then faced with the choice of leaving their kids in the court parking lot or taking them into the court, breaking the court rules in the process. For instance, Antonio Morgan reported being denied entry into the court with his children; he was then jailed for child endangerment after leaving them in the court parking lot under the supervision of a friend.[xliii]

Judges and Prosecutors Easily Switch Roles, Causing a Conflict of Interest and Dynamic Incentives Across Municipalities

Municipal court judges, pursuant to RSMo 479.02, are part-time positions.[xliv] In St. Louis County, municipal court judges are private criminal defense attorneys and sometimes county prosecutors. They may serve in multiple jurisdictions and the judge need not be a resident of the municipality within which he serves. Missouri does not prohibit, and some municipalities explicitly permit, practicing prosecutors and judges from one municipality to serve as a judge in another municipality. Similarly, municipal court judges and prosecutors may be employees of the state while working as a prosecutor in St. Louis County. For instance, it is possible for a defense attorney to appear before a judge on Tuesday, yet serve as the prosecuting attorney in another municipality on Wednesday. Later that week, that same attorney may practice law in his third role as a state prosecutor.

Court Costs and Fines Provide Significant Revenue for Municipalities: Collection and Enforcement

Court costs and fines represent a significant source of income for these towns. Two municipalities alone, Ferguson and Florissant, earned a combined net profit of $3.5 million from municipal courts in 2013.[xlv] The amount of revenue collected through municipal courts seems inversely proportional to the wealth of the municipality. This problem is illustrated by the examples of Pine Lawn and Chesterfield. Pine Lawn’s per capita income is $13,000, yet, in 2013, Pine Lawn collected more than $1.7 million in fines and court fees.[xlvi] However, Chesterfield, with a per capita income of $50,000, collected just $1.2 million from municipal fines.[xlvii] The collected municipal fines and court fees are essential to maintaining governmental operations, and as the amount of fines have increased, so too have the number of issued arrest warrants. According to reporter Ray Downs, “Pine Lawn has a population of only 3,275, yet last year it issued 5,333 new warrants, bringing its total outstanding warrants to 23,457.”[xlviii] Thus, the ratio of warrants issued to city population and the ratio of total fines to per capita income suggest that these cities use jail time as a form of coercion to forcibly extract needed funds from exceedingly poor communities.

Effects of Municipal Court Procedures on Offenders

Psychological Impact of Harassment  

One defendant stated he had been harassed by police and was seeking legal aid to sue the municipality. He asserted that the arresting officers lacked warrants and ignored his ensuing anxiety attacks, using mace and force after he told them he was having difficulty breathing.

Harassment, whether physical or psychological, has serious negative consequences for the victim. Harassment can lead to lack of confidence, fatigue, depression, isolation, frustration, stress, trauma, and a loss of motivation, all of which make it difficult for the individual to succeed at work or to engage in their community. On a personal level, this can lead to job loss, family estrangement, and much more. Widespread harassment can damage the performance and morale of the entire community.[xlix]

Detention also leads to psychological consequences for defendants, even for short-term stays in jails as opposed to prisons. The lack of privacy and constant scrutiny by guards can be “psychologically debilitating.”[l] Further, detainees experience psychological strain through the mental adjustment required to live behind bars.[li] Further, children of incarcerated parents experience “social, emotional, and developmental problems.”[lii] While these negative effects of detainment are more difficult to quantify than the lost income described above, they are the long-term legacy of these short-term detention programs.

Financial and Familial Impacts of Incarceration

Employment

As previously explained, many municipalities incarcerate individuals for their inability to pay fines. While this policy of incarceration imposes relatively steep financial costs on the municipalities themselves, many of which rent jail space elsewhere because they do not have facilities capable of holding detainees overnight, far greater are the negative effects endured by the individuals involved.

Most concretely, incarceration counteracts any progress a defendant has made in his or her life. For many municipal court defendants who work for an hourly wage, missing three or four days of work while in jail will seriously hinder their ability to balance already strained budgets and can often result in termination. Though jail stints are levied for the inability to pay fines, they actually make it even more difficult for defendants to raise the necessary funds. In addition, research suggests that incarceration has lifelong negative effects on earnings and economic mobility since it reduces individuals’ access to steady jobs with opportunities for advancement.[liii]

Housing

Targeting poor individuals and families with fines for traffic and ordinance violations impacts their ability to hold on to stable housing. For those living on the financial edge, each day presents difficult choices between competing needs: groceries or utilities, car loan payment or car insurance payment, clothes for children or vehicle inspection and registration, rent or repairs. Court-imposed fines of just a few hundred dollars can be enough to push a struggling family over the edge, out of their home and into homelessness. Some manage to find refuge with relatives or live “doubled up” with another family, but many have no such safety net.

The financial distress that causes a family to lose their home continues to stifle them even as they attempt to get back on their feet, sharply limiting their ability to obtain a new residence. Most landlords require a credit check and background report; a prior eviction or bad credit history raises red flags, which often lead to immediate rejection. “Once someone has had an eviction, a lot of landlords and management companies won’t even touch them. . . . An eviction, that can take seven years to get that off your credit report. That’s a long time.”[liv] Further, “people who become homeless almost always have poor credit. . . . . [they] don’t fall into homelessness overnight, after paying bills on time and keeping up with rent. [Homeless] families have almost always made some tough choices.”[lv] Current housing practices continue to punish those forced to make such tough choices for years to come, enforcing a vicious cycle of instability.

Even public housing programs place strict limitations on who is eligible to receive assistance. The St. Louis Housing Authority cites any criminal arrest, including failure to pay fines or appear in court, as grounds for denial of assistance.[lvi] Housing is typically denied if any member of the family has been evicted from federally assisted housing in the past three years. Additionally, individuals struggling with drug addiction or alcohol abuse—common causes of initial homelessness—are often barred from public housing.[lvii] Without stable housing, however, an individual’s ability to overcome addiction is severely compromised. Finally, if an applicant misses an appointment or deadline with the Housing Authority, potentially due to a court appearance or jail time for not paying court fines, their petition may be summarily denied.[lviii]

Family

As previously noted, fines set by municipal courts can amount to huge portions of the defendant’s monthly income, leading to deepened poverty, incarceration for failure to pay, and even homelessness. A study done by Zahid Ahmed characterizes the experience of poverty as an important component of family dysfunction, strain on spousal relationships, and issues with childhood development—such as depression, trust and abandonment issues, and underachievement or failure in school.[lix] These problems in childhood frequently carry over into adulthood and contribute to a cycle of poverty.

Those in poverty recount difficulties in paying for very basic needs, and fines can push them over the edge. Family provides the only direct support system for many people in poverty, and individuals without such a network often lack a financial safety net as well as meaningful social connections.

Effects of Municipal Court Procedures on Racial Profiling, Public Confidence, and the Relationship Between the Community and the Courts

Municipal Court Procedures Lead to Racial Profiling

Many residents feel that police target Black residents and try to find something wrong in order to issue tickets. The courts, in turn, issue arrest warrants and later send residents to jail for failure to pay fines. Officers can choose whether to charge the same offense as a municipal ordinance violation, a county ordinance violation, or a state misdemeanor; the only difference among the three is that if the officer chooses municipal ordinance violation, the fines accrued go directly to the municipality—and to pay the officer’s salary. Otherwise, anything above the actual cost of enforcement is disgorged to the state to fund education. Therefore, the primary function of police in these towns is to create revenue.

A group of defendants waiting outside a municipal court noted that there were no White individuals waiting with them; one indicated, “You go to all of these damn courts, and there’s no White people.”[lx] Another referenced specific municipalities that he believes engage in racial profiling: “In Dellwood, Ferguson, basically in North County, if you’re Black, they’re going to stop you.”[lxi]

Certainly, racial profiling exists outside of St. Louis and would exist without the municipal courts. However, if the financial incentive were removed, the policies driving policing would be very different. As one defendant said, “[t]hey’re searching to find something wrong. If you dig deep enough, you’ll always find dirt.”[lxii] This “dirt” so often sought and found by police is typically expired inspections, expired tags, or driving without insurance.

Bel-Ridge

The widespread feeling among defendants that the police and courts target Black residents has a substantial statistical basis. In Bel-Ridge in 2013, 75.7 percent of all traffic stops involved a Black motorist.[lxiii] This number is staggering in itself, but what may be more shocking is that in 2013, 100 percent of all searches and arrests originating from traffic stops in Bel-Ridge involved Black motorists.[lxiv] Of the 775 Black drivers pulled over, eleven vehicles were searched and thirty-two Black drivers were arrested. Of the 249 non-Black drivers pulled over, no vehicles were searched and no drivers were arrested.

Ferguson

In Ferguson, the statistics indicate a similar degree of racial profiling. Overall, 86 percent of vehicle stops involved a Black motorist, although Blacks make up just 67 percent of the population. By comparison, Whites comprise 29 percent of the population but just 12.7 percent of vehicle stops.[lxv] Once stopped, Blacks are almost twice as likely to be searched and precisely two times more likely to be arrested as compared to Whites—12.1 percent versus 6.9 percent, and 10.4 percent versus 5.2 percent, respectively.[lxvi] Ironically, despite disproportionate stops, searches of Black individuals produced contraband only 21.7 percent of the time, while searches under similar circumstances involving White drivers produced contraband 34 percent of the time—a 57 percent greater rate of success.[lxvii]

Florissant

The Florissant Police Department also disproportionately stops Black motorists at a rate four times greater than non-Blacks.[lxviii] While African Americans represent only a quarter of the municipality’s populace, they comprise 57 percent of stops.[lxix] Once stopped, White drivers were arrested 7.2 percent of the time, while Black drivers were arrested 14.9 percent of the time—more than twice as often.[lxx] The search rate was equally disproportionate, with White drivers searched 8 percent of the time and Blacks 15.8 percent.[lxxi] The Florissant data similarly demonstrated that White drivers who were searched were more likely to have contraband in the car, at 29 percent in searches of cars driven by White people and only 9 percent of stops involving Black residents.[lxxii]

Residents Perceive Municipal Court Procedures as Money Driven Rather Than Justice Oriented

For the vast majority of St. Louisans, a run-in with the municipal court is the only personal interaction they have with the justice system. This interaction thus shapes public perception of justice and the American legal system. Unfortunately, for many of the poorest citizens of the region, the municipal courts and police departments inflict a kind of low-level harassment involving traffic stops, court appearances, high fines, and the threat of jail for failure to pay without a meaningful inquiry into whether an individual has the means to pay.

Many residents feel municipal courts exist to collect fine revenue, not to dispense justice. As one defendant explained, “[they absolutely] don’t want nothing but your money . . . [but] you get people out here who don’t make a whole lot of money.”[lxxiii] He then described the startlingly common experience of being arrested, jailed, and instructed to call everyone he could think of who might have money to pay his fine—with the promise of three or four days in jail if unable to cobble together the sum.

One man waiting in line at the court expressed concern over the general procedure of the court: “[a]fter you come in like two or three times, if a person hasn’t paid [the fine] by then, then they gonna sock it to you, they about to put you in jail. People are in hardship, they can’t pay the fine, and if you got children, they won’t let you take them in there with you.”[lxxiv] Another agreed and summed up his experience ruefully, “[t]hey [are] treating us bad.”

Another woman there on the same charge attributed her legal problems to the municipality’s determination to find something wrong and collect revenue. Chagrined, she exclaimed, “[t]hey had to come and dig, they had to come and look in my files. There’s no way you could tell I don’t have trash service, that can is out there! What I’m mad at is, how did you get this information?”[lxxv] Along with the widespread impression that municipal courts are little more than debt-collection services, she, like many of the other defendants we talked to complained about the lack of consideration given to their circumstances and needs.

The abovementioned policies and procedures negatively impact public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of both the municipalities and the courts. As noted in the Missouri Municipal Bench Book—a publication drafted largely by and for municipal court judges—“[p]ublic impression of justice and its administration is formed more in municipal courts than in any other court of the state. The judge as judicial officer will instill in that individual his or her lasting image of our judicial system and this should never be forgotten.”[lxxvi] Unfortunately, the current policies adopted by the municipal court system lead to the impression of the courts and municipalities as racist institutions that care much more about collecting money—generally from poor Black residents—than about dispensing justice.

Municipal Court Procedures Harm the Relationship Between Residents and the Municipality

As a result of these impressions, many residents have a broken and antagonistic relationship with their municipal governments. One defendant, who estimated he has been jailed fifteen or sixteen times over ten years (all on the same charge of driving with a suspended license) said that he now skips court if unable to pay his fines, in order to avoid further detention. Another defendant proclaimed he will always plead not guilty, in an attempt to prolong the process “and make them spend more money.”[lxxvii]

A shockingly common sentiment among defendants was a desire to leave their municipality. For example, one longtime resident looked forward to leaving Bel-Ridge as soon as his lease expired. Another defendant stated, “I’m gonna leave St. Louis. That’s what I’m ready to do. I’m about to go. There’s too much going on in St. Louis, you can’t find a job, and when you can’t find a job, you hold on to the itty bitty jobs you got and they wanna [mess] with the little people that are actually working. . . . That’s what St. Louis is all about: trying to get the people that’s working.”[lxxviii] This kind of negative sentiment directly hurts the municipality and erodes its sense of community. When a municipality repeatedly marginalizes and penalizes its residents, the discontent grows and hardens attempts to rectify with community-building efforts. “It is ridiculous how these small municipalities make their lifeline off the blood of the people that drive through their area.”[lxxix]

Next Steps

ArchCity Defenders is working to develop proposed solutions to the problems outlined above. We recommend the following changes to existing procedures:

  1. The consolidation or elimination of municipal courts. There is simply no reason to have eighty-one separate courts with their own policies and procedures complicating clients’ lives, pushing the poor further into poverty, and further fragmenting our region. Nothing prevents towns from enforcing their municipal ordinance through the associate court of St. Louis County or contracting with one of unincorporated St. Louis County’s four satellite courts.
  2. Ensure that consolidated courts have full-time prosecutors, judges, clerks, and public defenders. These courts should meet every day and regularly in the evening to accommodate irregular working hours.
  3. In any court enforcing municipal ordinance violations, courts should do the following:
    1. Provide attorneys for those unable to afford one
    2. Remove jail as a punishment for any ordinance violation
    3. Cease the use of warrants to confine persons who have not been found in contempt
    4. Make judges available at any time for recalling warrants and releasing people from jail, perhaps by teleconference or having a duty judge for multiple municipalities
    5. Eliminate the failure to appear charge
    6. If there is a failure to appear charge, do not report the failure to appear to the state, thus avoiding the automatic instate suspension of a person’s drivers license
    7. Adopt Alabama model for determining indigence
    8. Proportion all fines to income and put a uniform maximum on fines
    9. Make constitutionally required inquiry into a person’s ability to pay before any incarceration for unpaid fines
    10. Adopt a policy of signature or recognizance bonds for all ordinance violations
    11. Require bond review within twenty-four hours of any incarceration and make constitutionally required inquiry into individual circumstances
    12. Eliminate the instate failure to appear suspension
    13. Eliminate all unlawful fees and costs
    14. Once fines have been assessed, the case is over; if an individual owes money to a court, the court may pursue it through any lawful civil debt collection practice
    15. Adopt the principals of a community court, where the infraction is treated as a place to intervene to help address underlying causes of infractions:
      • Invite social service agencies to dockets to connect people with service
      • If a person has a suspended license, walk them through the reinstatement process; do not assess fines or otherwise create obstacles preventing reinstatement
      • If the car is not up to code, help facilitate the repair of the car and allow time for the vehicle to meet inspection
      • Offer genuine community service within the person’s community

Update

ArchCity Defenders’ White Paper was initially posted to its website on 12 August 2014. Since then, there has been a movement toward reform of the municipal courts that includes litigation, policy advocacy, legislative proposals, rule changes, and actions by individual towns in the St. Louis region.

ArchCity Defenders

Letter to Ferguson

ArchCity Defenders and Saint Louis University School of Law Legal Clinics sent a letter to the mayor of Ferguson requesting that he grant amnesty to all pending charges and remit all fines and fees in the City of Ferguson as a “first step towards reconciliation.” We presented the legal authority under which he could implement the suggested policy. The mayor never responded to the letter.

Letter to the US Supreme Court

In partnership with Saint Louis University Legal Clinics, ArchCity Defenders articulated one of its longstanding proposals to proportion fines to income at the outset of a case. This could have an enormous impact on the lives of the poor in our region and reduce the time spent processing payments, issuing warrants, and unconstitutionally incarcerating people because of their inability to pay.

In the letter, we noted that the United States Supreme Court held, on equal protection grounds, that indigent defendants could not be imprisoned for failure to pay a fine when the failure is due solely to their financial inability. Further, we called their attention to the Supreme Court of Missouri’s holding that an indigent defendant who is unable to pay may not be incarcerated as a consequence of his or her poverty. To remedy this practice, we proposed a revision to Missouri Supreme Court Rule 37.65, as noted in the endnotes of this article.[lxxx]

Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Ferguson, Beverly Hills, Fenton, Jennings, Pine Lawn, Wellston, and Velda City for State Law Violations

We have joined the Campbell Law Firm and Saint Louis University School of Law Legal Clinics in filing class action lawsuits against Ferguson, Beverly Hills, Fenton, Jennings, Pine Lawn, Wellston, and Velda City. The suits call for a judgment that the fees violate state law and for reimbursement to defendants who were forced to pay the fees in order to avoid jail time or warrants. The suits also include a claim under the Missouri Merchandise Practices Act, the state’s consumer fraud statute, alleging the cities’ attempts to deceive defendants into paying the fees.

Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Ferguson and Jennings for Debtors’ Prisons

Our investigation uncovered long periods of incarceration for people whose only “crime” was the inability to pay. We have joined Equal Justice Under Law and Saint Louis University Legal Clinics to bring class action lawsuits against Ferguson and Jennings, alleging violations of the First, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The suits allege that indigent people were jailed solely for their inability to pay and held in deplorable conditions until they or their family scraped together enough cash to buy their freedom. 

Bel-Ridge Writ

ArchCity Defenders and Saint Louis University School of Law Legal Clinics have joined to bring a class action lawsuit against the Village of Bel-Ridge, alleging it has been operating a court without jurisdiction since June of 2014 as a result of failing to timely file required reports indicating provisions of municipal revenue. Under Missouri Law, municipalities are prohibited from collecting more than 30 percent of their overall revenue from traffic-related adjudication in their municipal courts. In order to determine whether the 30 percent cap was exceeded, municipalities are required to file a report with the state after the end of their fiscal year. Any municipality that fails to timely submit such reporting “shall suffer an immediate loss of jurisdiction of the municipal court of said city, town, village, or county on all traffic-related charges.”[lxxxi]

Address to the Ferguson Commission

ArchCity Defenders’ Executive Director Thomas Harvey addressed the Ferguson Commission on the issue of systemic racism in the municipal courts. He was invited to join the working group on municipal courts through the Ferguson Commission and to prepare a report for the governor by September 2015.

Legislation

There has been substantial movement at the legislative level, with both Democrats and Republicans seeking to introduce legislation to reform the municipal courts. For example, State Senator Eric Schmitt, a Republican from Glendale (a St. Louis suburb) has introduced legislation that would revise Missouri Statute 302.341.1 by limiting revenue earned from traffic-related ordinance violations to 10 percent of general revenue.[lxxxii] Any traffic-related revenue in excess of 10 percent would be given to local schools and would automatically trigger a ballot initiative allowing for the disincorporation of the municipality in question.

United States Supreme Court

Chief Justice Mary Rhodes Russell made municipal courts a key part of her State of the Judiciary address in January of 2015. She called attention to the impressions left when courts act as sources of revenue instead of justice: “From a local municipal division to the state Supreme Court, Missouri’s courts should be open and accessible to all. Courts should primarily exist to help people resolve their legal disputes. If they serve, instead, as revenue generators for the municipality that selects and pays the court staff and judges—this creates at least a perception, if not a reality, of diminished judicial impartiality.”[lxxxiii]

While the Supreme Court declined to follow our lead and order the proportionment of fines, the Chief Justice announced a change in the rules to require the following: “When a fine is assessed and it appears to the judge that the defendant does not have at that time the present means to pay the fine, the judge shall order a stay of execution on the payment of the fine.”[lxxxiv]

Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri

Following the death of Mike Brown, Governor Jay Nixon established the Ferguson Commission, charging it to prepare reports that propose reform to policing, municipal courts, and education polices. In his State of the State address on 21 January 2015, he called for legislation to reform the municipal court system in order to bring about systemic change.

Reforms in Individual Municipalities

As a result of the report, the City of St. Louis recalled over 200,000 outstanding warrants and proportioned fines to income for the poor. St. Louis County Presiding Judge Maura McShane ordered municipal courts to be open to the public. Municipal court Judge Frank Vatterott now heads a committee for municipal court reform and has adopted a few of our proposals. A local nonprofit, Beyond Housing, has proposed its own municipal court reforms, including many of our suggestions. Velda City offered to dismiss all pending cases upon a payment of $300. Ferguson eliminated two ordinances charging fees not authorized by state law, eliminated the warrant recall fee, and created a new docket to address people who are struggling to make their payments.

[i] Chris Koster, 2013 Annual Report: Missouri Vehicle Stops Report: Executive Summary, Office of Missouri Attorney General, 30 May 2014.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] US Census Bureau, American Fact Finder, Profile of General Population and Housing Characteristics: Bel-Ridge Village, Missouri, 2010.

[iv] US Census Bureau, American Fact Finder, Race and Hispanic or Latino Origin: Bel-Ridge Village, Missouri, 2010.

[v] US Census Bureau, American Fact Finder, Poverty Status in the Past 12 Months: Bel-Ridge Village, Missouri, 2008-2012.

[vi] Village of Bel-Ridge, Budget 1, 2014.

[vii] Office of State Courts Admin., Missouri Judicial Report Supplement: Fiscal Year 2013, 288.

[viii] Ibid., 303.

[ix] Village of Bel-Ridge, Budget 1, 2014.

[x] Missouri State Public Defender website, Salaries.

[xi] St. Louis City Budget Div., FY 2014 Line Item Detail Judicial Offices, 19.

[xii] Ibid., 29.

[xiii] Assuming twelve hours of work per month for the Bel-Ridge attorney as compared to 160 hours per month for a full-time job.

[xiv] Village of Bel-Ridge, Missouri, Police Organization website.

[xv] US Census Bureau, 2010 Census Interactive Population Search: MO-Ferguson City.

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] US Census Bureau, American Fact Finder, Selected Economic Characteristics: Ferguson City, Missouri, 2008-2012.

[xviii] Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Local Area Unemployment Statistics Map, Missouri, 2014.

[xix] Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Economy at a Glance: Missouri.

[xx] US Census Bureau, 2010 Census Interactive Population Search: MO-Ferguson City.

[xxi] US Census Bureau, American Fact Finder, Selected Economic Characteristics: Ferguson City, Missouri, 2008-2012.

[xxii] City of Ferguson, Missouri, Annual Operating Budget Fiscal Year 2013-2014, 49.

[xxiii] Missouri Judicial Report Supplement: Fiscal Year 2013, 303 (32,126 warrants outstanding on 30 June 2012 + 32,975 warrants issued in FY 2013 = 65,101. Subtract the 40,569 warrants outstanding on 30 June 2013, totaling 24,532 warrants disposed in fiscal year 2013).

[xxiv] Ibid., 288 (45 alcohol/drug-related traffic cases disposed + 6,013 other traffic cases disposed + 5,960 non-traffic ordinance cases disposed, totaling 12,018 total cases disposed in fiscal year 2013).

[xxv] Phone conversation with Ferguson Municipal Court employee, 17 June 2014. (No recording available.)

[xxvi] Office of State Courts Administrator, Supreme Court State of Missouri, Fact Sheet #33, October 2009.

[xxvii] Phone conversation with Ferguson Municipal Court employee, 17 June 2014.

[xxviii] US Census Bureau, American Fact Finder, Selected Economic Characteristics: Ferguson City, Missouri, 2008-2012, 67.

[xxix] Phone conversation with officer at Ferguson Jail, 21 July 2014. (No recording available.) Police department staff members mentioned that the jail is currently under construction but did not know when it was to be completed and its previous or future capacity.

[xxx] Phone conversation with Ferguson Police Department employee, 17 June 2014. (No recording available.)

[xxxi] US Census Bureau, State and County QuickFacts, Florrisant (city), Missouri, 2012.

[xxxii] Missouri Judicial Report Supplement: Fiscal Year 2013, 288.

[xxxiii] Ibid., 303.

[xxxiv] City of Florissant, Missouri, Adopted Budget 2014, 44.

[xxxv] Ibid., 18.

[xxxvi] Ibid., 17.

[xxxvii] Defendants’ rights information is occasionally included in municipalities’ reading materials published online. See, e.g., City of Dellwood, Missouri, website, Attorney Guidelines and Attorney Information.

[xxxviii] This procedure is not explicitly spelled out on any website; individuals can talk to municipal workers and court employees to figure it out, or they can hire an attorney.

[xxxix] See, e.g., 45bucks.com ($45 for basic traffic tickets) or the Law Offices of Steven Bublitz (offering “affordable payment plans that start as low as $100”).

[xl] Davis v. City of Charleston, Mo., 635 F.Supp. 197, 198-199 (1986). Holding that upon raising inference that poverty is reason for nonpayment rather than contempt, defendant is entitled to hearing on issue of indigency.

[xli] See e.g., Sophia Keskey, Nicole” Stories of Hope and Courage: Homelessness in the ShowMe State, Vimeo, 29 July 2014.

[xlii] Susan Weich, “Municipal Court Judges in St. Louis County Are Told to Open Doors,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1 July 2014.

[xliii] Ibid.

[xliv] Mo. Rev. Stat. § 479.020(2) (2013).

[xlv] Missouri Judicial Report Supplement: Fiscal Year 2013, 294.

[xlvi] Ray Downs, “ArchCity Defenders: Meet the Legal Superheroes Fighting for St. Louis’ Downtrodden,” Riverfront Times, 24 April 2014.

[xlvii] Ibid.

[xlviii] Ibid.

[xlix] Benjamin Justice and Tracey L. Meares, “How the Criminal Justice System Educates Citizens,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 651 (January 2014): 173.

[l] Hans H. Toch, Men in Crisis: Human Breakdowns in Prison (Piscataway, NJ: Aldine Transaction Press, 2009), 132. Mika’il DeVeaux, “The Trauma of the Incarceration Experience,” Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 48 (2013): 257, 259.

[li] Toch, Men in Crisis, 144.

[lii] Natasha H. Williams, Silent Victims: The Impact of Parental Incarceration on Children, Community Voices, National Center for Primary Care, Morehouse School of Medicine, 2007, 2.

[liii] Bruce Western, “The Impact of Incarceration on Wage Mobility and Inequality,” American Sociological Review 67 (2002): 526-546.

[liv] Casey Blake and Erin Brethauer, “No Place to Call Home: The Rise in Youth and Family Homelessness,” Asheville Citizen-Times, 23 June 2014.

[lv] Ibid.

[lvi] St. Louis Housing Authority Public Housing Program: Admissions & Continued Occupancy Policy 9-5, 27 June 2013.

[lvii] Ibid., 10-3.

[lviii] Ibid., 10-8.

[lix] Zahid Shahab Ahmed, Poverty, Family Stress & Parenting, 2005.

[lx] ArchCity Defenders, “Profiling for Revenue, a Tardy Judge, and Racial Tension,” SoundCloud Digital Audio, 3:09, 25 June 2014.

[lxi] Ibid., 1:15.

[lxii] ArchCity Defenders, “Pretextual Stops & Minor Infractions Wreak Havoc on Low-Income Residents, SoundCloud Digital Audio, 0:20, 25 June 2014.

[lxiii] According to the Attorney General’s “disparity index,” which compares the percentage of traffic stops that involve a given race to the percentage of driving-age residents in the municipality of that race (so a 1.0 indicates perfectly proportionate stops, while below a 1.0 indicates “under-representation” of a given race in traffic stops, and above a 1.0 indicates “over-representation” of a given race in traffic stops), this number is actually an “under-representation” of Black motorists in stop data. These numbers, however, may be skewed given the very high percentage of Black residents in the municipality, a proportion that is almost certainly larger than the proportion of Black drivers in the municipality, given the number of highly trafficked intermunicipal roads running through Bel-Ridge. See Chris Koster, 2013 Missouri Vehicle Stops Report: Racial Profiling Data, Office of the Missouri Attorney General, 30 May 2014, 63.

[lxiv] Ibid., 64.

[lxv] Even given Ferguson’s large Black population, the disparity index shows that Black motorists are over-represented in traffic stops. African Americans have a disparity index of 1.37, while all other races have disparity indexes between 0.35 and 0.41. See Koster, Racial Profiling Data, 359-360.

[lxvi] Ibid.

[lxvii] Ibid.

[lxviii] Ibid., 367-368.

[lxix] Ibid.

[lxx] Ibid.

[lxxi] Ibid.

[lxxii] Ibid.

[lxxiii] ArchCity Defenders, “Going to Jail, and Going to Jail, and Going to Jail,” SoundCloud Digital Audio, 0:20-1:30, 25 June 2014.

[lxxiv] Ibid. This particular court session was on 25 June 2014, one day after Presiding Judge Maura McShane specifically released an order reminding municipal courts that such practices are an unconstitutional restriction of the court system. Of course, on that day, the order was not followed. Only recently was the prohibition against children in the courtroom removed from Bel-Ridge’s “Court Procedures” webpage.

[lxxv] ArchCity Defenders, “Recording No. 3,” SoundCloud Digital Audio, 3:05, 25 June 2014.

[lxxvi] Missouri 2010 Bench Book §1.8 (2010).

[lxxvii] ArchCity Defenders, “Pretextual Stops & Minor Infractions Wreak Havoc,” 0:39.

[lxxviii] ArchCity Defenders, “ArchCity Defenders Recording No. 1,” SoundCloud Digital Audio, 3:23, 25 June 2014.

[lxxix] ArchCity Defenders, “Pretextual Stops & Minor Infractions Wreak Havoc,” 1:27.

[lxxx] 37.65 Fines, Installment or Delayed Payments—Response to Nonpayment

(a) In determining the amount and the method of payment of a fine, the court shall proportion the fine to the burden that payment will impose in view of the financial resources of an individual. The court shall not sentence an offender to pay a fine in any amount which will prevent him from making restitution or reparation to the victim of the offense.

(b) If it appears to the judge imposing judgment or assessing a fine that the defendant does not have at that time the present means to satisfy the fine, the judge may issue an order allowing the defendant additional time for payment, reducing the amount of the fine or of each installment, or revoking the fine or the unpaid portion in whole or in part.

(c) When an offender sentenced to pay a fine defaults in the payment of the fine or in any installment, the court upon motion of the prosecuting attorney or upon its own motion may require him to show cause why he should not be imprisoned for nonpayment. The court may issue a warrant of arrest or a summons for his appearance.

(d) Following an order to show cause under section c, the court may fine the defendant or imprison the defendant for a period not to exceed 30 days upon a finding that the defendant intentionally refused to obey the sentence of the court. The court may provide in its order that payment or satisfaction of the fine at any time will entitle the offender to his release from such imprisonment or, after entering the order, may at any time reduce the sentence for good cause shown, including payment or satisfaction of the fine.

(e) If it appears that the default in the payment of a fine is excusable under the standards set forth in section d, the court shall enter an order allowing the offender additional time for payment, reducing the amount of the fine or of each installment, or revoking the fine or the unpaid portion in whole or in part.

[lxxxi] Missouri Revised Statutes, Chapter 302, Drivers’ and Commercial Drivers’ Licenses, Section 302.34.1, 28 August 2014.

[lxxxii] “Editorial: Municipal Court Reform Bill Plays a Winning Hand,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 11 February 2015.

[lxxxiii] Mary R. Russell, State of the Judiciary address (presented during a joint session of the General Assembly, Jefferson City, Missouri, 22 January 2015).

[lxxxiv] Supreme Court of Missouri, “Order dated December 23, 2014, re: Rule 37.65 Fines, Installment or Delayed Payments—Response to Nonpayment,” 23 December 2014, effective 1 July 2015.

admin • April 26, 2015


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