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Court: Can’t pay your ticket? Wash police cars and clean courtrooms or go to jail

The birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr., appears to be reverting back to the 1950’s.

A recent appeals court ruling reveals that Montgomery, Alabama judges and police are allowed to give indigent people two choices to pay for traffic tickets. One, they can wash police cars and clean courtrooms or two, they can go directly to jail.

“This appeal requires us to decide whether two municipal judges enjoy absolute judicial immunity and a mayor and two police chiefs enjoy qualified immunity from a complaint alleging claims of peonage and false imprisonment.?

“The complaint alleges that the city of Montgomery, aggressively collected fines and court costs owed by individuals for various offenses,  typically traffic tickets. But indigent offenders, who could not afford to pay their fines, were forced  to sit-out the fines in jail by earning a credit of $50 a day.”

“The jailees allege that, while in jail,  they were forced to participate in a work program,  which  allowed them to reduce their time in jail by working for an additional credit of $25 a day.  The jailees describe the work program as a “forced  labor policy” because they were allegedly threatened with more unlawful jail time if they refused to work. For example, McCullough alleges that she was forced to stand suicide watch over an inmate infected with hepatitis C. Edwards alleges that he was forced to clean jail cells and pick up trash. And Johnson alleges that she was forced to wash police cars and clean courtrooms.”

Forcing indigent people to pay fines or into forced labor, increases profits for courts and police.

The complaint alleges that the city of Montgomery “raised three times more money in fines and 15 times more money in court costs than neighboring Huntsville, Alabama.” (Click here to see how police and courts fine people to increase profits.)

Appeals Court: Judges and police chiefs have immunity

What is really disturbing about the Appeals Court ruling is how law enforcement and judges are given the same treatment as District Attorneys (DA’s) who are granted absolute immunity from lawsuits and prosecution.

“We divide our discussion in two parts. First, we explain that absolute judicial immunity bars the jailees’ claims against the judges. Second, we explain that the jailees’ complaint fails to state a claim that overcomes the qualified and state-agent immunity of the mayor and chiefs.”

Incredibly, the Appeals court declined to consider whether it is legal to give people two choices to pay off their fines, forced labor or jail time. Appeals Court: “We ask not whether civil incarceration was appropriate in a specific case but instead whether ordering civil incarceration is a judicial activity.”

In Alabama, judges can do whatever they want.

“A judge enjoys absolute immunity for judicial acts regardless of whether he made a mistake, acted maliciously, or exceeded his authority.”

The Appeals court also said “a presiding judges’ acts are not transformed into administrative acts. And went to say that because the judges’ acts were judicial they enjoy absolute judicial immunity.”

In our justice system, law enforcement is treated the same as DA’s and judges.

The Appeals Court used the case of a Muslim man [Iqbal] who tried to sue the FBI for false arrest after 9/11, to justify granting law enforcement qualified immunity.

The Appeals Court justified their decision by claiming that if you “substitute the mayor for the attorney general and the chiefs for the FBI director in Iqbal, the comparison is uncanny.” (Click here to see another example of an Appeals Court going out of its way to grant police qualified immunity.)

It is time to face the facts, our judicial system goes out of its way to shield government agents from accountability.

This article first appeared at Mass Private I.