Of Counsel

Legal Notes on Georgia and The South

Big News for Small Violations in AL

Posted by Maggie on February 25, 2008

The Birmingham News reports today on the settlement of a federal lawsuit against the City of Birmingham’s Municipal Court. The Court was charging high fines for minor traffic violations and misdemeanors and jailing any defendant who couldn’t pay. It basically meant a walk for the well-off and jail for the poor.

The conditions of the settlement require the City to keep a defense attorney available to any indigent persons in Municipal Court. All defendants will be advised of their rights. And before any fine is converted to jail time, the Court must consider the defendant’s ability to pay.

As a PD I saw a lot of frustration and injustice with severe cases. In private practice I’ve been to a number of small local courts for traffic violations for long-time clients. What I’ve seen in these courts is often just as frustrating, especially since the people charged don’t realize that they’ve got more to deal with than they expected. I once saw a huge man completely break down in sobs when he was told he’d be going to jail. No judge, no prosecutor, no defense attorney, just a government staffer telling the man he had to pay or serve time. It’s a good step forward for Birmingham, and I hope other cities follow.

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