Criminal Justice Press Release

01.30.18

Chief Justice O’Connor Continues Leadership in Reforming Fines and Fees Practices, Says ACLU

Criminal Justice

COLUMBUS- On January 29, Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor sent a letter to all Ohio trial judges with instruction to uphold current law on fines, fees, and bail practices. This was in response to concerns after the U.S. Department of Justice rescinded a 2016 guidance that advised courts not to criminalize low-income defendants through excessive fines and fees. Chief Justice O’Connor issued the letter to ensure that judges were aware that the law has not changed, despite the decision by the DOJ. The following statement can be attributed to Mike Brickner, senior policy director:

“There is a constitutional principle of fairness and equal treatment regardless of income when courts impose and collect fines and fees. The Department of Justice guidance simply reinforced what the U.S. Constitution already says—that no one can be jailed simply because they cannot afford to pay their financial obligations. Chief Justice O’Connor has been a national leader on this issue, and her work to help end debtors’ prison practices in Ohio is invaluable. Her commitment to these principles ensures that judges are clear about the law. We look forward to continue working with the Chief Justice to protect all Ohioans from injustices visited upon them simply because of their income.”

In February 2014, Chief Justice O’Connor issued a bench card to all judges in Ohio in response to the ACLU’s report The Outskirts of Hope, which chronicled how debtors’ prisons ruined lives and cost communities throughout the state.

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