Call Today for a FREE Consultation

262-923-8761

24 HOUR EMERGENCY CONTACT

American Bar Assn issues guidelines on ending debtor’s prisons

| Aug 23, 2018 | Criminal Defense

Over 30 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that people who cannot afford their court fees or fines should never be locked up for their inability to pay. Yet across the country, nearly half a million people sit in jail awaiting trial — often simply because they can’t afford bail.

Originally, bail was meant to ensure that people would appear at their court dates. Now, however, the system has morphed. Nowadays, wealthy people are nearly always released regardless of the charge, while poor folks typically find themselves trapped in jail even on minor charges. The time they spend locked away — before they’ve ever been convicted of anything — often costs them their jobs, housing and even child custody.

Bail systems disproportionately target the poor and people of color. Additionally, the conviction rate among people jailed before trial is significantly higher than for those who are not, especially because many people feel they have no choice but to accept plea bargains to get out — regardless of their actual guilt.

Keeping people in jail who are unable to post bail has another consequence that few realize. Nearly every jail now records all inmate calls to family, friends and even their lawyers in many cases. Increasingly, jails now restrict visits to inmates to video contacts, which are also recorded. The result is that poor people in jail who are unable to post bail are deprived of any chance to have private communications with family or friends.

Often, concerned family may ask the inmate for updates on what the person’s lawyer is telling them about strategy or evidence. Since these discussions are recorded and regularly monitored, the poor individual’s right to privacy and attorney client confidentiality is impaired. This amounts to a denial of equal protection when those wealthy enough to post bail face none of these consequences. 

Last month, Senator Bernie Sanders introduced the No Money Bail Act, which would prohibit money bail in federal cases and incentivize states to end cash bail. The bill is not thought to have much traction, however.

Now, the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates has voted unanimously to adopt 10 guidelines aimed at ending these modern “debtor’s prisons.” The 400,000-member lawyers group is hardly partisan; its members run the gamut from prosecutors and Federalist Society affiliates to criminal defense lawyers and members of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The organization’s “Ten Guidelines on Court Fines and Fees” are the product of a task force convened to address the growing public distrust in the justice system. It decided that the ABA needed to take a stand against the collection of fines and court fees through warrants, the suspension of driver’s licenses, pretrial incarceration and the separation of children from parents who can’t pay.

Examples of the guidelines include:

Guideline 3: “A person’s inability to pay a fine, fee or restitution should never result in incarceration or other disproportionate sanctions.”

Guideline 5: “Failure to pay court fines and fees should never result in the deprivation of fundamental rights, including the right to vote.”

Guideline 8: “An individual who is unable to afford counsel must be afforded counsel, without cost, at any proceeding, including ability-to-pay hearings, where actual or eventual incarceration could be a consequence of nonpayment of fines and/or fees.”

Across the nation, people are fighting to end this unjust system and return to the constitutional principles this country was founded on. Let’s hope the ABA’s new guidelines have a profound effect on the money bail system.

Archives

“I just want to say thank you for the outstanding work you have done for him and let you know how much we appreciate the time and attention you gave to his case. We are obviously overjoyed by today’s dismissal!” (Child pornography case dismissed after motion to suppress was granted)”

“After having had time to exhale, we thank each one of you and all the others who contributed to the exemplary Supreme Court presentation. We are proud of your efforts on our behalf and, equally important, on behalf of the many present and future defendants statewide.” (Client’s comment after Supreme Court oral argument)

“Thank you. Thank you. I am so pleased to hear that we won. It doesn’t seem that it was even a close call. I appreciate your efforts.” (Oconto County defendant after Buting, Williams & Stilling got his prison sentence overturned in the court of appeals) ”

“Your time and advice was appreciated more than words can express at a time when we really needed someone to guide us.” (Client)

“The outcome was amazing, one unavailable even under identical circumstances in probably 98 percent of federal courtrooms around the country. Separate and apart from the outcome, though, I am supremely impressed by your efforts on your client’s behalf. Your comments in support of the requested sentence were perfect in tone and, having now reviewed the extensive sentencing memorandum you filed, your work in that regard was exemplary as well. Your client was certainly fortunate to have you as his attorney.” (Local federal court attorney present at a sentencing)

“I can’t thank you enough, not only for all of the tireless work that you and your staff put into my case, but for telling me what I needed to hear, at a time when I absolutely had to hear it. I consider myself blessed for everything turning out the way it did, especially since I blindly picked you out of a phone book! You helped me, my family and friends in many more ways than the money ever could.” (Child pornography client)

“I think you will find that in any circles where Kathy’s name is raised, people will always respond positively and identify her as an extremely hardworking, knowledgeable and ethical lawyer who is timely and effective with any endeavor she takes on. These circles would include colleagues, friends, prosecutors, judges, professors and others who have crossed paths with Kathy. They would also include the many lawyers like me who have referred numerous cases to Kathy, invariably with positive feedback from the clients regarding her knowledge of their case, empathy, professionalism and fair-mindedness in addressing their concerns.” (Fellow attorney)

“Thank you for giving [our son] back to us. Wonderful work!” (Family of client accused of armed robbery after charges were dismissed)

“Yes, His perfect time and perfect place, you were a part of this plan. I almost didn’t hire you, but I took a step of faith trusting Him and look what happened? Praise God. Our Lord put you in your vocation for a reason, continue to help those He brings your way. May He bless you in ALL you do!” (Client who was wrongfully convicted of sexual assault in a northwestern Wisconsin county. He was released from prison after attorneys got his conviction reversed.)

“I really cannot thank you enough for your past help. You really know your stuff. It is actually funny when I think about my other past attorney’s knowledge and then when I talk with you. It’s like night and day. You’re like a walking book of knowledge with a purpose-driven life. Thanks.” (Brown County client of attorney Buting)

“A year later and I still believe your defense is the single best example of lawyering I have ever seen.” (Television reporter commenting on attorney Buting’s defense of Steven Avery)

“You have a certain brilliance that makes me sure that when you talk, it is good information and I am in good hands. You tell it to me like it is even when the things you say are not always the things that I would like to hear. You keep it REAL!!!” (Brown County client)

“Thank you, thank you, thank you! I feel like this was one of the biggest blessings that happened in my life. I put this along with my children being born healthy and when I survived that horrific shooting. I appreciate everything you have done for me. I couldn’t ask for better lawyers. I want to say thank you to everybody at your firm. I owe you more than the fee you so rightfully deserve. … You gave me back hope. Thank you, man! Out of my 36 years … I have never seen such kindness before. I don’t know what I did to deserve this; I’m very thankful nonetheless. Thank you for giving me hope again. Thank you for your generosity. There are still some really good people around.” (Federal criminal appeal client)

“There is no other attorney I’ve ever even heard of I’d rather have as chief counsel and leader of my defense/appeals than Jerome Buting. You’re the best. Period.” (Dane County client)

“Your advice and counsel were greatly appreciated. We appreciate you taking the time on your Sunday and evenings to help us. We are SO happy about the results! Thanks again.” (Waukesha County client)

“Thank you again … for everything. Five and one-half years of commitment, so many ups and downs and an outcome like that. You did a GREAT job.” (Waukesha County felony drug offense client)