The “Pay or Stay” Rule

Judges who force defendants to pay off fines and costs due to the court by threatening or imposing jail time violate the Constitution.

Michigan Criminal Defense Attorneys - Group

Incarcerating Someone Based on Financial Ability is a Violation of Equal Protection Laws.

The “Pay or Stay” scenario has existed for many years, likely since the very beginning of the court system. As the name implies, you stay in jail if you can’t pay your fines and costs or bond. It has been criticized by both conservative and liberal critics alike. Concerning fines and costs, one problem is that some courts allow a defendant time to pay, and some don’t, leading to an unfair system. Furthermore, more prominent defendants or defendants with talented, retained attorneys by their side often were given breaks and time to pay, making the system even more unfair. Concerning bonds, defendants who can’t post the bond are held in jail, sometimes for weeks, even if they are innocent, and the charges are later dismissed. The Defense Team with LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. has successfully fought to get clients released when judges seek to impose jail for nonpayment of fines or costs.

One example of “Pay or Stay” is as follows: Several years ago, a local district court judge addressed a defendant about the money he owed to the court. The defendant claimed he didn’t have the money the judge had fined him. The defendant asked the judge, “Is it pay or stay?” The judge said, “Yes, sir.” The defendant could not come up with all the money at once, and the judge sent the defendant to jail.

The defendant appealed, and the higher court ruled that it was unconstitutional to jail someone without ascertaining the defendant’s ability to pay. In September 2016, the Michigan Supreme Court took matters into its own hands. It announced the new rule that state courts cannot jail defendants without determining their ability to pay.

Why do judges still jail defendants who cannot pay fines and costs if it is illegal?

It is unfortunate that judges still cling to the old idea that if a defendant cannot pay money owed to the court, jail is the best way to motivate them to come up with the funds for fines and costs. Judges who still rely on this primitive position of jailing defendants for nonpayment of fines and costs do not care that people with less financial resources end up spending more time in jail than wealthier defendants. This violates equal protection laws, and a good lawyer will stand up to even the toughest judge to ensure a client is not unfairly incarcerated.

Jailed for Non-Payment of Fines or Court Costs

Fixing the Problem – Laws to Prevent Judges from Jailing Defendants for Nonpayment of Fines

Some laws are intended to protect defendants from judges who discriminate against people based on socioeconomic status. However, even with the safeguards, you still may be in jeopardy of sitting in jail due to a particularly harsh judge’s failure to follow the rules. Some judges openly disagree with the relaxed rules and disregard them. Your case may be remedied eventually, and you may be released, but how long you will have to sit in jail is uncertain. That’s not acceptable.

You should retain a top-rated, highly regarded criminal defense attorney right from the start of your case to ensure you don’t unnecessarily spend one minute in jail. You need a zealous advocate to ensure a judge follows the rules. A good lawyer will advocate for lower fines and costs, reasonable payment terms, and help you avoid a “pay or stay” situation.

If I can pay overdue fines or costs, doesn’t that mean a lawyer is unnecessary?

If you have a probation violation for failing to pay fines, consulting with a criminal defense attorney is still a good idea, even if you can now pay those fines in full. The violation is for not paying the amount due on time, not just for failing to pay the balance. Although paying the balance owed can help mitigate a pending violation, it does not resolve the case or guarantee the judge will not impose jail or other penalties. The maximum possible sentence for a probation violation is the maximum sentence for the original offense. Your best hope of avoiding potential consequences is with an experienced defense attorney at your side.

Michigan Criminal Defense Attorney

Defense Attorneys Who Keep You Out of Jail

The dedicated, experienced, and zealous defense attorneys at LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. have successfully represented thousands of clients on felony and misdemeanor charges in Oakland, Macomb, Wayne, Washtenaw, and Livingston Counties, and throughout Michigan. We have a well-earned reputation for providing the highest quality defense and aggressive representation, while showing empathy and care for each client. We will never tolerate the violation of our client’s rights, including any judge who seeks to impose jail for nonpayment of fines, costs, or restitution.

Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete an online Request for Assistance Form. We will contact you promptly and find a way to help you.

We will find a way to help you and, most importantly,
we are not afraid to win!

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